Even as our family and friends live longer and healthier lives than ever before, eventually illness, accidents, and cognitive decline can create vulnerability and the need to depend on others for health and financial management. This dependency may create a situation where seniors are susceptible to financial abuse.
People who prey on the vulnerability of the elderly rely on secrecy and their ability to manipulate in a situation where they feel no one will find out their true intentions. They may be caregivers, neighbors, family members, or even strangers.
Often operating in a smokescreen of deceit and emotional manipulation the last thing they want is someone to demand transparency.
Frequent visits and financial transparency provide the strongest protection against this type of elder abuse. You can use these simple steps to help protect your senior loved one.
Visit your loved one often. Social isolation provides ample opportunity for an unscrupulous person to take advantage of an elderly person. In nearly every elder financial abuse case I handle, the elder was subjected to a significant period of isolation, outside of their interactions with the alleged abuser.
Advise your elder loved one to designate someone to help oversee his or her bank accounts. A quick review of monthly statements will show if anything unusual is happening, like large cash withdrawals from ATMs or large checks made out to caregivers or friends. The designation of a family member may cause complications, so consider a neutral third party like a trusted financial planner.
Help your senior pay bills, and determine what is valid and what is not.
Register your senior’s number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry either online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888-382-1222. By reducing calls from salespeople you also reduce opportunity of those calling seniors with the idea of defrauding them. You can also sign up for Nomorobo to block robo calls. Also make your elder aware that many scams exist, and never to give a credit card number over the phone if asked. Popular scams include people claiming to be Amazon employees and/or IRS agents.
You can opt out of mail solicitations by contacting the Direct Marketing Association at www.dmachoice.org. This limits the number of catalogs, credit card offers, and other direct mail pieces your loved one receives. Seniors in particular are frequently targeted by direct mail campaigns.
Make an appointment with an Elder Law attorney and a financial advisor. An elder law attorney can help set up a Revocable Trust and Durable Power of Attorney to assist with financial management. An experienced elder law attorney can advise you as to what the best protective measures are. A trusted financial advisor can provide additional oversight to discourage financial abuse.
In our practice, which is focused on probate law, we primarily handle cases of financial elder abuse that have occurred within the family. In other words, the alleged abuser is a child, niece, nephew, or other close relation of the elder. If the elder is still alive but lacks mental capacity, we work with other family members to establish conservatorship in order to protect the elder going forward. If the elder has passed and the abuse occurred within an estate planning context (such as last minute changes to a trust/will when the elder lacked capacity), we assist family members in pursuing restitution through the probate court.
While there are several legal avenues one can pursue once abuse has occurred, prevention is always the best medicine. Set up estate planning early, hire experienced and trusted professionals to assist, and keep in close contact with your parent or elder.
If you need assistance with a financial elder abuse matter, conservatorship, or estate planning, call our Contra Costa County Trust and Estate Law Firm at 925-322-1795 to set up a consultation.