There's a legal way for someone to take your home, your stuff, and your money — but everyone ignores the two documents that can help keep you safe

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A bombshell report in the New Yorker detailed how one woman allegedly took control of strangers’ financial and health decisions in Nevada.

• Experts say the case represents a nightmarish scenario that stemmed from a lack of judicial oversight.

• Two easily accessible legal forms — that don’t require a lawyer to complete — can help prevent this type of abuse.

It could happen to anyone.

For 12 years, April Parks showed up at strangers’ homes, court documents in hand, informing them they could no longer care for themselves, and that she would be taking over their financial and medical decision making.

Parks and her workers would identify these people through physicians’ offices and rehabilitation centers, arrive unannounced, whisk them away, and take inventory of their possessions, according to a harrowing report from The New Yorker‘s Rachel Aviv. Parks is accused of selling their property, cars, and belongings, and transferring their cash to a bank account in her name. All the while billing them an hourly rate for her services.

But this alleged network wasn’t comprised of burglars or kidnappers. Parks was a legal guardian, appointed by a judge to take care of over 400 people throughout her career, according to the New Yorker.

Now, she and three of her associates her lawyer, husband, and business partner have been indicted, facing a total of 270 counts on seven different felony charges.

Guardians are meant to make decisions for those who cannot care for themselves or their affairs, due to age, mental illness, or developmental disabilities. It’s a role typically filled by family members or friends. But in rare instances when no one is available, or loved ones are deemed unfit, a court may appoint anyone who has completed the state’s guardian qualification process, even if that person is a stranger.

In Parks’ case, the scheme was allegedly carried out in such a way that the victims’ relatives didn’t know what was happening until it was too late.

April Parks guardian

It truly represents a worst case scenario, Jenny Flom, a New Jersey attorney at Cole Schotz who focuses on guardianship actions, told Business Insider.

“The whole system isn’t totally corrupt,” Pamela Teaster, the director of Virginia Tech’s Center for Gerontology, told Business Insider. “There are pockets of corruption, and when there are pockets of corruption it’s a total mess and it is totally unconscionable.”

The nationwide system was far more fraught with abuse a few decades ago. The Associated Press helped expose the “ailing system” of guardianship in the 1980s, Teaster said. Today, she said the laws surrounding guardianship vary by state, but are “pretty darn good,” generally speaking.

In New Jersey, where Flom practices, she said there are certain safeguards in place. A person’s relatives are always contacted early in the process. The court also requires certifications — including a diagnosis and prognosis — from either two physicians or a physician and a licensed psychologist, as well as detailed documentation of the person’s assets. If a guardian is ultimately appointed, all financial accounts are monitored to ensure no monetary impropriety takes place.

Still, Teaster said prudent guardianship — regardless of whether the guardian is a stranger or related to the person — requires monitoring, which involves “more time and more money than is presently devoted to it.”

Simple documents — like a power of attorney form and healthcare directive — can help you retain control, even if you are no longer able to care for yourself.

“Nobody needs to not go to sleep at night or lock their doors or think the judiciary is going to, with its long, swooping arm, take you,” Teaster said.

The best way to protect yourself from experiencing similar mistreatment or abuse, according to Flom, is to make sure your estate planning documents are complete — and that means more than just a will. “Make sure your power of attorney and your healthcare directive are completed,” Flom said.

Supreme court of nevada

A power of attorney form is a legal document that gives one or more people access to your financial accounts and the ability to make decisions with your money when you can’t. A health care directive does the same for medical decisions. Both forms, which vary by state, can be found for free online and completed without the help of an attorney — though having a lawyer review the forms can help ensure they are legally sound.

You can create your own power of attorney form with step-by-step instructions from LegalZoom, and make it official by having two people sign it as witnesses. Some states require the form to be notarized as well. AARP has free downloadable health care directive forms for each state. Keep a hard copy and a digital copy somewhere safe, and make sure your chosen caretaker knows where to find them.

It’s especially crucial that you keep updating those two documents, to reflect changes over time. If your chosen caretaker is no longer willing or able, then you need to choose someone else and complete new forms.

According to AARP, more than half of Americans do not have have basic estate planning documents like a will or power of attorney in place. Among millennials, that number jumps to 78%.

If you haven’t completed the documents, according to Flom, it could leave the court no choice. “If you need someone to make decisions for you at that point, you’re stuck in probate court in New Jersey and there’s a guardian being appointed over you.”

Teaster said most guardians take on the role for the right reasons, but that more attention and resources should be devoted to the system in order to stamp out abuse.

“When it works well, people are safer,” she said. “When it works badly, it’s a draconian action that strips people of their rights with little due process and oversight.”

SEE ALSO: 15 signs your coworker is a psychopath

DON’T MISS: Millennials are saving twice as much as baby boomers — and they could be on track to retire richer than their parents

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Facing the Death Penalty With a Disloyal Lawyer – New York Times

By ADAM LIPTAK

WASHINGTON — Two weeks before Robert McCoy was to be tried for a triple murder, his lawyer paid him a visit. It was the summer of 2011, and the two men met in a holding cell in a Louisiana courthouse. Mr. McCoy, who was facing the death penalty, told his lawyer he was innocent.

Mr. McCoy was adamant. Others had committed the crimes, he said, and he wanted to clear his name.

The lawyer, Larry English, said he had a different strategy.

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“I met with Robert at the courthouse and explained to him that I intended to concede that he had killed the three victims,” Mr. English recalled in a sworn statement. “Robert was furious and it was a very intense meeting. He told me not to make that concession, but I told him that I was going to do so.”

Capital trials have two phases. The first concerns guilt, the other punishment. Mr. English reasoned that he would forfeit his credibility with the jury if he contested what he believed was overwhelming evidence against his client in the trial’s first phase. He feared the jurors would not listen to him when he begged them to spare Mr. McCoy’s life in the second phase.

Conceding guilt in a capital case is sometimes the right play. Last month, the Supreme Court agreed to decide whether it is permissible even if the man whose life is at stake objects.

Mr. McCoy was accused of killing Christine Colston Young, Willie Young and Gregory Colston, who were the mother, stepfather and son of Mr. McCoy’s estranged wife. There was substantial evidence that he had done so. There was also reason to think that Mr. McCoy’s belief in his innocence was both earnest and delusional.

There was no ambiguity in Mr. McCoy’s position, Mr. English recalled.

“I know that Robert was completely opposed to me telling the jury that he was guilty of killing the three victims,” Mr. English said. “But I believed that this was the only way to save his life.”

After the meeting, Mr. McCoy tried to fire his lawyer, saying he would rather represent himself. Judge Jeff Cox, of the Bossier Parish District Court, turned him down.

“Mr. English is your attorney, and he will be representing you,” the judge said.

Mr. McCoy’s parents had paid Mr. English $5,000 to defend their son. They had borrowed the money, using their car as collateral.

In a letter to Judge Cox before the trial, Mr. McCoy’s parents said they rued their decision. Mr. English “is neither prepared nor capable of adequately representing our son,” they wrote. When they tried to discuss the case with Mr. English, they wrote, he responded with a tirade and “insulted us by talking to us as if we were children.”

During his opening statement at the trial, Mr. English did what he had promised to do. “I’m telling you,” he told the jury, “Mr. McCoy committed these crimes.”

Mr. McCoy objected. “Judge Cox,” he said, “Mr. English is simply selling me out.”

“I did not murder my family, your honor,” Mr. McCoy said. “I had alibis of me being out of state. Your honor, this is unconstitutional for you to keep an attorney on my case when this attorney is completely selling me out.”

Whatever its wisdom, Mr. English’s trial strategy failed. Mr. McCoy was convicted and sentenced to death. He appealed to the Louisiana Supreme Court, saying his lawyer had betrayed him. The court ruled against him.

“Given the circumstances of this crime and the overwhelming evidence incriminating the defendant,” the court said, “admitting guilt in an attempt to avoid the imposition of the death penalty appears to constitute reasonable trial strategy.”

The decision relied on a unanimous 2004 ruling from the United States Supreme Court in Florida v. Nixon, which said lawyers need not obtain their clients’ express consent before conceding guilt in a capital case. But the ruling did not address whether it was permissible for a lawyer to disregard a client’s explicit instruction to the contrary.

That is the question in the new case, McCoy v. Louisiana, No. 16-8255.

The right answer, Louisiana prosecutors told the justices, is that lawyers may ignore their clients’ wishes. “Counsel’s strategic choices should not be impeded by a rigid blanket rule demanding the defendant’s consent,” they wrote in a brief urging the court not to hear the case.

Mr. English declined requests for an interview, saying he would not comment until after the Supreme Court ruled.

In a brief supporting Mr. McCoy, the Ethics Bureau at Yale, a law school clinic, said Mr. English had essentially switched sides. “Far from testing the prosecution’s case,” the brief said, “Mr. English seemed downright eager to advance it.”

Mr. McCoy’s situation is not particularly unusual, according to a second supporting brief, this one filed by the Louisiana Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the Promise of Justice Initiative, a nonprofit group. “In Louisiana,” the brief said, “a capital defendant has no right to a lawyer who will insist on his innocence.”

Since 2000, the brief said, the Louisiana Supreme Court allowed defense lawyers to concede their clients’ guilt in four other capital cases over the clients’ express objections.

The Sixth Amendment guarantees a right to “the assistance of counsel.” Those words, the Supreme Court said in 1975 in Faretta v. California, indicate that the client is the boss.

“It speaks of the ‘assistance’ of counsel,” Justice Potter Stewart wrote, “and an assistant, however expert, is still an assistant.”

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