Soldier Gets Evicted While In the Hospital…Or “Why You Need a Power of Attorney”
Here’s a story currently circulating the Web that illustrates why every servicemember needs a power of attorney.
SGT Porrazzo, a soldier out of Fort Hood, Texas, was injured in a military exercise in Yakima, Washington, and was hospitalized for an extended period of time. His landlord noticed he had missed a rent payment, and so contacted his unit. His First Sergeant informed the landlord that the soldier was in the hospital, and he did have the money to pay rent. However, he didn’t have his checkbook with him in the hospital and was unable to physically write the check to pay the rent. The First Sergeant assured the landlord that he would be paid when the soldier got out of the hospital.
So far, so good.
But when the Soldier got out of the hospital and returned to his home in Killeen, Texas, he found that someone else was living in his home. What was worse, according to reporting by the blog GuardianOfValor, the property management company had already auctioned off his belongings. Everything that could not be auctioned off was thrown away.
To make matters still worse, the soldier asserts that he had a number of firearms, including a Barrett .50 caliber rifle, which the property company could not account for.*
According to SGT Porrazzo’s sister, Jeannette Porrazzo, who is acting as a family spokesperson, SGT Porrazzo inherited the Barrett from his father, who used to operate a gun store. SGT Porrazzo inherited quite a number of firearms from his father, in fact – there may have been $50,000 to $100,000 worth of firearms in Porrazzo’s home, according to the family. Although the company had removed the contents of the home and changed the locks, they could not account for the missing firearms.
A representative of Team Line refused to comment for this story, other than saying the story was “not true. “She referred further questions to their attorney. However, she could not or would not provide us with the attorney’s name. Jeannette Porrazzo, speaking for the family, affirms that the Guardian of Valor blog’s reporting was correct.
The larger question here is this: This soldier had already been on several deployments, and would have been offered an opportunity to create a power of attorney document as part of the mobilization process each time. Why was there no power of attorney in place at the time SGT Porrazzo was injured?
Depending on how the language was constructed, a power of attorney document could have enabled Jeannette Porrazzo, or some other trusted friend or family member to write a check from SGT Porrazzo’s account to pay the rent on his behalf while he was incapacitated.
But when Porrazzo was incapacitated, there was nothing in place to allow for it.
“We thought everything was going to be fine,” said Jeanette, when we spoke to her via telephone. “We were relying on what they were telling us, which was that they were working with Mark.”
Meanwhile, Mark’s platoon leader was bugging his company commander, every day, trying to get the company commander to help him get a power of attorney.
The moral of the story:
When you created a power of attorney document before your last deployment, chances are good it was a limited power of attorney, and good only while you were overseas. Yes, it’s important to place controls on the POA document. Even family members and spouses have been known to abuse a delegation of power of attorney to clean out bank accounts while troops are deployed. But you can craft a power of attorney to become effective only under certain conditions, such as your hospitalization.
In this case, the soldier was hospitalized out of state. His sister, likewise, was out of state, in California. And the right hand did not know what the left hand is doing.
If you are incapacitated in an injury, as SGT Porrazzo was, you probably aren’t going to get any warning. In this case, if there’s no power of attorney document already in place, chances are you won’t be able to create one. Your family members can’t do this for you. It would require the intervention of a court to allow a family member access to your financial resources, even to pay your rent on your behalf – and courts are extremely reluctant to intervene.
You can customize the POA – for example, appointing one family member power of attorney over a checking account and the other over your other assets. Or you can limit it to making transfers for a specific purpose. These are called “limited powers of attorney,” and these are important safeguards to protecting yourself from abuse while you are incapacitated.
Here are some commonly requested and crafted power of attorney documents:
- POA for Check Cashing
- POA to Buy/Sell/Lease Real Property
- POA for Clearance of the Installation
- POA for Voluntary Appointment of Guardian
- POA to Apply for Dependent Identification Card
- POA to Accept/Terminate Military Quarters
- POA to Buy/Sell/Lease Vehicles
- POA to receive or store household goods
- POA to authorize medical care for children
- POA to ship or store personal or household goods.
- POA to Ship your privately-owned vehicle
- General POA
You can get just as injured in a car wreck or training accident in the United States as you can in Afghanistan. A power of attorney document is a must – both for soldiers and spouses.
Don’t let what happened to the Porrazzo family happen to you and your family.
- Make an inventory of all the checks you have to write each month – even money you pass on to your spouse or other family members to use to run your household with.
- Make a list of everything you need someone doing on your behalf if you’re incapacitated for a significant period of time.
- Then make an appointment with your JAG or attorney, customize it how you need it, and get the document in place.
Back to SGT Porrazzo…
Mark Porrazzo isn’t talking to the media, except via his sister, Jeannette. He’s concentrating on trying to make a full recovery. As of early August 2012, it could be another four months before he’s released from the hospital. The injuries may end his Army career after 15 years.
The family isn’t accepting cash donations, and Mark’s not answering emails. But the family is welcoming letters of support, which you can send to:
SGT Mark Porrazzo
Fort Hood, TX 76544