Georgia Lane, 44, Gold Coast, Qld
A huge smile spread across Pa's face as he reached out to hug my kids. 'We missed you,' Jaime, then five, and Nicholas, then two, murmured into his belly sweetly.
My grandad Lawrence, then 92, was in a nursing home in NSW. As my husband Derek, 52, and I lived in Queensland with our kids, we had to wait until the school holidays to see him.
This time we'd brought a lunch of freshly baked bread, succulent prawns and salads as a treat. Pa loved it, but as the afternoon came to a close it was clear something was on his mind.
'Would you mind taking a look at my bank books, Georgia?' he asked.
I work in financial services so he knew he could come to me. 'I can't seem to see a deposit I made,' he confided.
'Don't worry Pa,' I said reassuringly. But when I looked through the paperwork I couldn't see any sign of the $120,000 deposit Pa said he'd made.
'I'll call Julie and ask her about it,' I told him. Pa's stepdaughter Julie, 66, had cared for him since her mother Bernice died in 2010. Julie had power of attorney over Pa's financial affairs.
He had raised her from the age of two after he returned from the war and remarried. My dad John, now 71, was like a brother to Julie and her sisters Carol and Donna. When Bernice had sadly passed away, Pa sold the family home and divided the estate between the kids.Then Julie offered to be his full-time carer. 'It's the least I can do,' she said.
Julie didn't have a career or home of her own and Pa had always helped her out so she felt it was time to give back. As Dad was living in America and I was in Queensland with my family, the move made sense to us too.
But when I visited Pa in his new home a few months later, I realised things hadn't worked out as I'd imagined. The lawn was overgrown - and not all of Pa's belongings had been unpacked.
'Where's Julie?' I asked.
'She's gone out for the day,' Pa told me.
A corned beef sandwich wrapped in plastic had been left out for his lunch and Pa said she'd be back later with a takeaway. So much for being a full-time carer, I thought. But Pa was still fully mobile and seemed happy to spend the day pottering around on his own.
Around a year later though, Pa had a fall and had to go to hospital. As he slowly recovered, the doctor suggested he might be better off in a nursing home.The family agreed and we found him a place nearby. The staff were warm and friendly and Pa had his own room as well as access to a pleasant courtyard.
Despite being in his 90s, Pa still had a sharp mind. So when he told me his money had gone missing, I knew he wasn't imagining things.
Pa told me he'd been to the bank with Julie to deposit cash from the sale of his house for him to live on. But looking at the bank books there was no sign of it. Calling Julie, I couldn't get through. I asked staff at the care home to get in touch but they had no success either. And without power of attorney over Pa's affairs, there was nothing I could do to investigate further.
Then one day Pa told me Julie had removed his bank book from his jacket pocket without asking. Julie still refused to return our calls or texts. What was she hiding?
Pa became distressed and then he fell ill and went into hospital. When discharged, he moved to another nursing home where medical help was more accessible.
Julie was still in charge of Pa's accounts and wouldn't discuss any transactions she'd made on his behalf. With her refusal to help, we consulted the bank. They suggested we go to a tribunal.
A few months later in September 2012, we attended a special hearing. Julie refused to attend or answer the phone during the hearing.
That's when I realised the truth.
Her power of attorney was revoked and I was appointed in her place. That's when I realised the truth. Pa's bank balance was way lower than it should have been.
After factoring in the sale of his estate and cost of his care, we expected he would have around $300,000, but instead it showed $45,000...
My jaw dropped. There was only one person who could know where that money had gone. Julie...
For more than 50 years Pa had worked hard so his family could live comfortably. He'd supported Julie and lent her money if she needed it, no questions asked. Telling Pa it looked like Julie had conned him was the hardest thing I've ever done.
'I'm so sorry Pa,' I said. 'Julie's been stealing money from your accounts.' At first he couldn't believe it, then his face crumpled as he was hit by the betrayal.
'How could she?' Pa wept.
As the police investigated, we moved Pa to a new care home near me on the Gold Coast. Tragically his health quickly declined.
'I'm sorry I've put this on you,' he kept telling me and in March 2013, he passed away. It was heartbreaking to know he'd spent the last months of his life feeling so devastated.
It wasn't until May this year that Julie Kemp, 66, appeared in court charged with 50 counts of dishonestly obtaining benefit by deception. The court heard how Julie had stolen $248,000, which she subsequently gambled on the pokies.
Growing up, Julie called Pa 'dad', but in court she only addressed him as 'Mr Lane'. It was so hard to watch.
I was relieved when she was convicted of the charges. In June, she was sentenced to 18 months' home detention. Two months on, I'm still sickened by her deception.
I'm sharing my story to warn others about the dangers of giving just one person power of attorney. At least we finally got justice for Pa. I'm just sorry he wasn't here to see it.
Originally published in that's life! issue 33 2015, cover date 20 August 2015.
Power of attorney facts
- Someone with power of attorney can make personal or financial decisions on your behalf, with the same legal effect as if you'd made them yourself. That's why it's important to find someone you trust.
- They must be 18 or over and not be your paid carer, health provider or a service provider for a residential service where you live.
- If appointing an attorney for financial matters, they must not be bankrupt. It's wise to consider someone who is responsible with their own money.
- For personal matters, consider a friend or family member who understands your personal wishes.
- Experts suggest appointing two people jointly as power of attorney - so that one cannot act without the other.