Man’s children ready for legal fight over loss of Itawamba property

By Patsy R. Brumfield/NEMS Daily Journal

FULTON – Felicia Sheffield and Tim Smith buried their father Thursday.
On Friday, they set about trying to recover Tony J. Smith’s Itawamba County land from the woman to whom he signed over his durable power of attorney in 2007.
“This was all coached into him,” said Sheffield, who lives in Tupelo. “I feel like he didn’t know what he was doing.”
That woman, Jimmie Faye Johnson of Mantachie, sees the situation entirely differently. She says she paid the note on the property and Smith deeded it to her last fall “because I was his primary caregiver.”
“I bought that property,” she said Friday.
Their disagreement is one of many reviewed each year by the Mississippi Attorney General’s Office of Vulnerable Adults. However, said office spokesperson Jan Shaefer, the unit hasn’t been contacted about this situation.
Power of attorney is a legal authority granted from one person to another, through a signed and notarized document filed in chancery court. It gives that person certain powers to act on the first person’s behalf.
Several kinds of power of attorney exist, but the “durable” kind remains in effect even if the grantor becomes incompetent. The power ends with the death of the person who grants it.
Itawamba County records show that Johnson, the widow of J.L. Johnson, who died in late 2000, has durable power of attorney for two other men – her brother, Wilbur R. Shepherd of Randolph, and Robert E. Warren, then of 1511 Highway 363 in Mantachie, now believed to be in a Mantachie nursing home.
She also was granted power of attorney for health care by Smith and Warren, which gives her the ability to direct the men’s medical providers not to prolong their lives, among other things.
Johnson said she and Warren’s wife were best friends, and that she and Mrs. Warren discussed her having his power of attorney before Mrs. Warren died.
Anything more about the situation, Johnson said, is private and nobody else’s business.
Tony Smith, a lifelong Itawamba Countian, died Tuesday. The funeral was Thursday afternoon in Mantachie.
His children say they weren’t notified when he was admitted to the hospital Monday morning. Sheffield said Johnson called her with the bad news about four hours after he died the next day.
Tim Smith said Johnson didn’t even bother to tell him his father was dead.
While Sheffield’s name is listed as the “alternate agent” on her father’s POAHC, she said she never was told about her status.
Sheffield and Smith say they’ve been concerned about a non-family member having such strong sway over their father’s life and worldly goods.
“He had about a sixth-grade education,” Sheffield noted, saying many times he’d ask other people to read documents to him.
He also never mentioned anything to his children about signing over his power of attorney or selling his land to Johnson.
“I don’t why he didn’t tell us,” his daughter said.
Now, they’ve hired an attorney to see what they can do about holding on to whatever is left from his death.
They say they didn’t know until Wednesday, the day after he died, that six months ago their father signed a warranty deed to Johnson for slightly more than 23 acres in Itawamba County. It was all done in standard legalese “for and in consideration of the sum of $10, cash in hand paid, and other good and valuable considerations.”
Smith’s children say they wonder about those “good and valuable considerations” that may have enticed their widower father to give this wholesale legal power to Johnson.
Johnson insists they weren’t around their father enough to know what was going on with him.
Sheffield denies the allegation, saying they visited him frequently at home when Johnson was at work.
She and her brother claim that their father suffered from dementia for the past several years.
And years ago, Tim Smith said, their father told them he was leaving everything he had to them.
Tony Smith and Johnson “were going together,” his son noted, saying he believes she got the health-care power of attorney by convincing him she was the best person to drive him to see doctors in Birmingham about a kidney transplant. Tim Smith said that trip never happened.
Sheffield also said her father’s health problems were so complicated that he never was a candidate for a transplant.
Smith said Johnson met Warren some years ago when she worked with his wife, who since has died. “Now, she’s driving one of his cars,” he recalled from his father’s funeral day.
Johnson called the Daily Journal via a cell phone listed in Warren’s name.
A look at the court documents shows that while Smith’s signature was nothing remarkable in 2007, it changed to a barely legible scrawl by the land deal, which may be because Smith was having medical problems with his right hand, his son said.
Smith’s power of attorney papers were signed June 28, 2007, and notarized by Renee Chamblee of Fulton.
These kinds of documents are recorded in each county courthouse, and no statewide searchable data base exists to know if Johnson holds any others. She ceased her conversation with the Daily Journal before that question could be asked.
A look through Itawamba registrations for power of attorney since 2000 does not reveal any others granted to Johnson.
The POA and POAHC documents, with nearly boiler-plate language, were prepared by Fulton attorney David C. Sabine. His listed work telephone was not in service and he could not be reached for comment.
Sabine’s also was the notary signature on the 2001 warranty deed when Johnson was granted her husband’s 1.04 acres with improvements by his only children, Judy K. Irvine of Paris, Tenn., and Janice J. Robinson of Mantachie.
Warren granted Johnson his power of attorney on Dec. 19, 2008. The “alternate agent” was her daughter, Janice Robinson, listed at 1511 Highway 363, Mantachie, the same address as Warren’s on the document.
Robinson could not be reached to explain why the addresses are the same.
Shepherd’s durable-power sign-over came Feb. 12, 2008, in Itawamba County, but courthouse records there don’t indicate he authorized a health form.

Contact Patsy R. Brumfield at (662) 678-1596 or patsy.brumfield@djournal.com.

What is power of attorney?
A document you use to grant someone else legal authority to act on your behalf.
You can revoke an ordinary power of attorney and it automatically ends with your death or if you’re incapacitated.
Also called letter of attorney or warrant of attorney.
It’s also the name for the authority that’s granted. For example, “I granted my sister power of attorney to sell the house.”

Terms used:
• Durable power of attorney – Remains in effect while the person who grants it is incompetent.
• General power of attorney – Authorizes someone to transact business for you.
• Irrevocable power of attorney – Cannot be revoked.
• Power of attorney coupled with an interest – Same as irrevocable power of attorney.
• Power of attorney for healthcare – Takes effect when you become incompetent and designates someone else to make decisions about your healthcare. It’s also a legal document explaining your wishes about medical treatment, if you should become incompetent or unable to communicate. Sometimes called a Living Will.
• Special power of attorney – Limits authority to only a specified matter.
• Springing power of attorney – Becomes effective only when needed, usually when someone is incapacitated.
* SOURCE: Black’s Law Dictionary.

Tips for family members:
• Talk with their loved one about their financial matters
• Be cautious of anyone (particularly those who are not related) who is seeking power of attorney over their elderly loved one
• Consider putting two people in the position of power of attorney, where one can’t act without the other. That way there will be two layers of accountibility.
* SOURCE: Miss. Attorney General’s Office