“We have a pool and a pond…the pond would be good for you” -Bill Murray in Caddy Shack

Financial exploitation takes many forms. It always amazes me to talk with clients about some new form of abuse. As golf professionals, it’s easy for time to fly by. Keep in touch with people in your circle of friends and family who may be exposed to abuse before it escalates.

An incomplete list of malfeasance could include the sale of an elder’s medications; grocery bills more attributable to cash withdrawals taken by caregivers than bread and milk purchased for the elder; lawn services for a small yard being billed at $300 per week; money being used for gambling fees; medical care and dental care being neglected because of a theft of funds; and assignments of bank accounts into joint tenancy with a wrongdoer.

Most families with victimized elders could readily add to the list of the ways elders can be financially exploited. Here are some ways you can remain alert:

  • Be very careful and take precaution when hiring caregivers. Simply hiring a caregiver company is not an insurance policy against wrongdoing.
  • Watch your elder’s bank accounts—particularly withdrawal activity or changes in accounts. Sometimes the horse is out the barn door before you discover bank transfers, but late is still better than never (or a year later).
  • Be careful and inquiring if you hear that your elder has been making frequent trips to the bank.
  • Be vigilant about watching your elder’s mail. We have seen situations where financial information is hidden from the view of the elder and his or her relatives. Beware—this is a sign of great danger. Some financial advisors believe that an elder’s credit report should be ordered periodically, reasoning that a questionable report could be a useful “canary in the coal mine.” We have also seen cases where perpetrators cashed Social Security checks belonging to their victim. Accordingly, direct deposit of Social Security, retirement, and dividend checks provides some distance between an abuser and your elder’s money. Set up a PO Box if electronics and tech are not going to happen.
  • Review receipts from vendors (grocery stores, pharmacies, Costco, etc.) for goods purchased for your elderly relative. We have seen multiples cases in which wrongdoing was first discovered by this kind of review. A $350 receipt from the local grocery store showing a $200 cash withdrawal can make even the most oblivious family member suspicious.
  • Watch for service scams. New heaters, air conditioners, garbage disposals or lawn irrigation systems sold at an excessively high premium are not unusual.
  • Reverse mortgages can be a blessing or a curse. They may provide a large lump sum payment or a stable, predictable monthly income to senior adults, but money coming in from a reverse mortgage may also be a large and tempting “cookie jar” for unscrupulous caretakers or relatives. More than once I have seen reverse mortgages paid to vulnerable senior adults with questionable capacity, and the existence of a reverse mortgage often isn’t discovered by a senior’s family until the senior has passed away.

Durable powers of attorney can be a potent legal vehicle for ensuring a senior adult’s health, legal and financial well-being is in the hands of a trusted agent. If used with prudence by trusted family members or agents, these powers provide legal protection when and if the senior becomes incapacitated or incompetent. When exercised appropriately, such powers are an unfettered blessing. Get these done today if you haven’t already!  If misused, however, they can destroy a lifetime of planning.

My firm has seen several incidents where power of attorney was misused at the end of an elderly adult’s life to benefit the holder of the power of the attorney. Examples of misuse include the transfer of real property to the holder by negating trust provisions that provide for a different distribution; the seizure of personal property held in safe deposit boxes coupled with later denials of the existence of the property; dramatic changes in bank accounts that are inconsistent with will or trust provisions; and the transfer of title to vehicles.

Some holders of medical powers of attorney have even misused their privileges to prevent family members from visiting the hospital bed of a gravely ill or dying relative. Stories are too common about how a child, or grandchild, could not visit a dying relative because a stepmother or stepfather prevented the visit. If someone is forced to deal with this issue, he or she should immediately contact a lawyer familiar with elder abuse laws. Medical facilities should also be aware of their limitations of their power in preventing visits.  Not to mention the elder person being on medication which negates their ability to sign documents while legally incapacitated?  Always make a habit of having a witness in these situations.

source: AARP

Isolating elders from their families, neighbors and loved ones is an all-too-common occurrence in instances of abuse. Changed door locks, newly locked front gates, cell phone seizures, failure to answer or open the door to visitors and unreported removals of elders from their homes are part and parcel of the isolation process. Unbelievable, right?  “Don’t be naïve”, this is something you can watch out for and do something about. These actions cause family members to fear for the safety of their loved ones and also may create a sense of helplessness. Unfortunately, such conduct is common.

If you’re dealing with some kind of isolation or freeze out, the first step is to call Adult Protective Services. Many local law enforcement agencies also have task forces that deal with such abuse. Civil lawyers skilled and experienced in elder abuse issues can assist with these contacts and can also address such issues in civil filings that include restraining orders and other appropriate measures.

Some words of warning, however: While isolation conduct might be obvious to a family member of the elder, this form of misconduct may not be as obvious to authorities. Criminals and wrongdoers do not usually jump at the chance to admit guilt. While there is no excuse for elder abuse, wrongdoers will readily provide them.

Here are some common excuses:

  • “I had to keep everyone away because they just upset Mr. Divot.”
  • “We had to move Grandpa Bogey to Arizona because they have the best medical care there.”
  • “I had to keep Aunt Duff away from the phone because she only got upset when she heard from her relatives.”

My firm has seen several incidents where power of attorney was misused at the end of an elderly adult’s life to benefit the holder of the power of the attorney. Examples of misuse include the transfer of real property to the holder by negating trust provisions that provide for a different distribution; the seizure of personal property held in safe deposit boxes coupled with later denials of the existence of the property; dramatic changes in bank accounts that are inconsistent with will or trust provisions; and the transfer of title to vehicles.

January is a great time to watch for elder abuse within your family of friends before it leads to financial exploitation that leaves irrevocable damage to the ones you care about.

 

Blake Parrish
Senior VP, Portfolio Manager
Phone: (503) 619-7237
E-mail: blake@bpfinancialassoc.com

Certified Financial Planner Boardof Standards Inc. owns the certification marks CFP®, CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, CFP® (with plaque design) and CFP® (with flame design) in the U.S., which it awards to individuals who successfully complete CFP Board’s initial and ongoing certification requirements.”