Friday, May 17, 2013

Will your family steal your home?

Thanks to the generosity of over 5,000 online supporters from across the globe, a 91-year-old Ohio man, John Potter, has successfully overcome his daughter’s attempts to evict him from the home he built 56 years ago.

In 2004, while battling a serious illness, World War II veteran John Potter gave the general power of attorney to his daughter, Janice Cottrill.  Unbeknownst to Potter, Cottrill exploited this power to convey his home’s deed to herself.

Potter learned of the deed transfer in 2010 and promptly switched power of attorney to his granddaughter.  He then sued to reclaim the one-story house, arguing that his daughter’s deed transfer was illegal because as the power of attorney, she cannot transfer assets to herself from the estate she oversees.
He initially won in the county court, but in 2012, an appeals court overturned the decision.  It stated that the four-year statute of limitations had passed on the accusation of breach of fiduciary duty.  Thus, the deed could not be returned to Potter.

Earlier this year, the family dispute culminated in Cottrill’s eviction notice to her father, informing that she had terminated his “existing lease.”  Yet, she, in agreement with her attorney, offered to allow Potter to remain in the house if he bought it.

Potter’s only income is his pension, making it nearly impossible for him to afford the $125,000 price tag for the home he once owned outright.  This prompted Jaclyn Fraley, his granddaughter and current power of attorney, to launch an online campaign to raise the necessary funds.  The news outlets picked up the story, and in just a month, Fraley and Potter have already exceeded their expectations, earning over $135,000.  Impressively, donations continue to pour in, giving Potter additional finances to continue to care for the home.

Through grit, persistence, and several thousand generous friends, John Potter scraped his way back from a power of attorney gone terribly awry.

Horror stories such as this nightmare can and do happen—but they do not always end so favorably.  Powers of attorney are often necessary, but it is imperative to understand this role’s authorities and responsibilities before you assign one or become one.  Or, perhaps you will learn all of this in the course of complex probate litigation?

UPDATE 6/20/13: 
John Potter once again finds himself facing a looming eviction.  Due to price disagreements, Janice Cottrill rejected her father’s recent offer on the home.
An independent market appraisal conducted on the home revealed its value is $47,000 with a tract of land worth $2,830.  Through his attorney, Potter offered to pay his daughter this market value, but he instead received a counter-offer around $85,000 plus $4,000 and $11,500 for the eviction process and attorney fees, respectively.  Potter attempted a second offer of $60,005.23 on June 13, but Cottrill declined without a counter-offer, issuing a letter through her lawyer informing that she finds “the offer unacceptable and decline[s] the same.”
Potter’s attorney, Tim Gleeson, says that he and his client are open to conducting another appraisal but admits that without a counter-offer, the best move is to look for new housing for Potter.
With his eviction hearing scheduled for June 26, Potter fears the judge will have no choice but to force him out of the home.  Jaclyn Fraley says that she will help her grandfather purchase a new house with the generous donations from thousands of internet donors. 
He will not be homeless but John Potter will most likely never again live in the home he built 56 years ago— all because of a power of attorney gone wrong.