Monday, August 15, 2011

Infirm Elderly Iowa Homeowner Scores Win In Effort To Undo Home Equity Ripoff Perpetrated By Daughter's POA Abuse

A recent ruling from the Iowa Court of Appeals may provide some guidance (and ammunition, possibly) for those seeking to undo a fraudulent home equity ripoff involving an elderly victim whose mental stability is questionable, and particularly where the ripoff was perpetrated by a close family member purportedly acting under authority of a power of attorney.

The three issues addressed in this case were:

  1. The competency of the elderly victim to execute the documents that began her nightmare, and any right that the business community may have to rely on the legal capacity of adult persons who have not been adjudged incompetent without any further investigation;

  2. The applicability of the Iowa homestead exemption, whether any waiver of rights pursuant thereto was executed, whether the homestead could be deemed abandoned where an infirm victim needs to vacate because he or she needs care not available in his or her home, and what effect the timing of any abandonment can have on an earlier-executed mortgage; and

  3. The use of a Power of Attorney by an unscrupulous perpetrator to effecuate the ripoff.

The bottom line here was that a ripoff perpetrated by the sole adult daughter of an elderly, infirm homeowner was partially undone, and remanded back to the trial court to further develop the facts that could ultimately lead to the dubious deal being undone completely.

Regrettably, this case also serves as one more reminder that, winning and losing in court often depends, not only on the merits, but also on the skill and tenacity of counsel advocating on behalf of his or her client, including counsel's willingness to challenge an adverse trial court ruling by filing an appeal. The elderly victim here had earlier lost her battle in the trial court, and it took the filing of an appeal (and all the additional litigation that entails) to afford an appellate court an opportunity to review and reverse a lower court ruling on the above-referenced legal issues. Without the filing of the appeal, the elderly victim would have improperly gotten the boot from her home.

For the ruling, see Citizens State Bank v. Ruebel, No. 1-090/10-1028 (Iowa App. July 27, 2011).

Representing the homeowner was Jerrold Wanek of Garten & Wanek and Robert Gainer, Des Moines, Iowa.

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