Category: Elder Abuse

protect loved ones from financial elder abuse

Protect Loved Ones from Financial Elder Abuse

In 2021, more than 6.2 million people in America live with some form of Alzheimer’s disease and need some type of memory care. At the same time, financial abuse and scams, especially those targeting people 65 and older, are on the rise, says the Better Business Bureau. It is important to protect loved ones from financial elder abuse.

Individuals suffering from Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia face unique challenges when it comes to financial elder abuse and scams, according to a recent report “Protecting you or a loved one from financial elder abuse and scams” from Idaho News 6. The increasing number of Alzheimer’s diagnoses increases chances of needing in-home, memory care or skilled nursing care at some point, making it increasingly important to plan ahead. When there is no advance planning, financial devastation and the potential for financial elder abuse occurs.

Planning starts with an experienced estate planning attorney who can help the family prepare these four basic documents:

  • Last Will and Testament
  • Financial Power of Attorney
  • Health Care Power of Attorney
  • Living Will/Advanced Directive

There are additional documents, depending upon the individual’s situation, including a Durable Power of Attorney, used to give another person the ability to make decisions for property, business and financial matters. In cases of future incapacity, this is extremely important.

Power of Attorney: This appoints an “agent” who can make financial decisions on behalf of the “principal.” The POA creates a fiduciary relationship between the agent and their principal, wherein the agent must act in the best interest of the principal, above their own interest. The selection of a POA is very important, since it is a big responsibility.

The Principal should also name a successor agent, in case the primary agent is not able or willing to take on their role. Understand the possibility of abuse of power by the agent before finalizing any documents. An agent who abuses their powers or reaches beyond their powers can be prosecuted.  However, it is best to make a good choice from the start and try to avoid problems.

Most of us get all the right protection in place for our homes, cars and have health insurance in place. However, the chances of needing long-term care for a dementia are actually higher than having your house burn down.

Planning for incapacity and protecting loved ones from financial elder abuse can be accomplished with the help of an estate planning attorney. Have the conversations with your attorney and your family early and get going.

If you would like to learn more about elder abuse, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Idaho News 6 (Sep. 14, 2021) “Protecting you or a loved one from financial elder abuse and scams”

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Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

Difference between Conservatorship and Guardianship

It is common for people to misunderstand and confuse the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship. A conservatorship is created to let one person manage another’s finances. The conservator is court- appointed and may be responsible for financial decisions, such as retirement planning, the purchase or sale of property and the transfer of other financial assets.

The laws for conservatorships and guardianships can vary widely in different states. A conservatorship or guardianship is typically necessitated by a disability or injury that prevents a person from caring for themselves.

US News & World Report’s recent article entitled “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One” explains that once you have a conservator in place, the burden is on you to prove you no longer need it. The biggest issue in most cases is abuse of power or neglect. Either (the conservator) is doing something self-serving, such as spending money on something other than the senior’s care, or they’re not helping the conservatee, or providing the care they need.

Estate planning attorneys may recommend a conservatorship or guardianship in standard estate planning documents, like a power of attorney. A conservator can be any adult, possibly a family member, who is tasked with the responsibility of managing the person’s finances.

Because a conservator would be in charge of a person’s assets, it’s common for the same person to be named to serve as attorney-in-fact or agent with a power of attorney. However, because a guardian is in charge of the person themselves, it’s wise to nominate the same people who are named to serve as health care agents in the client’s health care proxy. Sometimes, these are the same, but if they’re different, it is important for that difference to be stated.

A guardianship is created in cases when a person can’t take care of themselves and requires another person to make some or all of their personal decisions. This might include decisions about his or her medical care, support services, housing, or finances. While a court appoints both a conservator and a guardian, a conservatorship is generally limited to financial decisions. In contrast, a guardianship deals with personal decisions, like medical care, and may, in some instances, also cover financial decisions.

Just about every state has laws designed to protect those placed in a conservatorship or guardianship. For example, in New York, individuals must satisfy medical requirements to be determined unable to care for oneself. The burden of proof to meet such restrictions is high.

In addition, individuals can seek professional help in preparing for future circumstances that may prevent them from managing their finances and personal affairs. This includes estate planning documents, such as wills, powers of attorney, beneficiary forms and health care proxies. An estate planning attorney can help you better understand the difference between a conservatorship and a guardianship, and advise you which is the best option for you and your family.

If you would like to learn more about conservatorship and guardianship, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: US News & World Report (Aug. 19, 2021) “How Conservatorships Can Prop Up or Tear Down a Loved One”

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avoid these common estate planning scams

Avoid these common Estate Planning Scams

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Beware of These Estate Planning Scams” advises you to avoid these common estate planning scams.

  1. Cold Calls Offering to Prepare Estate Plans. Scammers call and email purporting to be long lost relatives who’ve had their wallets stolen and are stranded in a foreign country. Seniors fall prey to this and will pay for estate planning documents. Any cold call from someone asking that money be wired to a bank account, in exchange for estate planning documents should be approached with great skepticism.
  2. Paying for Estate Planning Templates. For a one-time fee, some scammers will offer estate planning documents that may be downloaded and modified by an individual. While this may look like a great deal, avoid using these pro forma templates to draft individual estate plans. Such templates are rarely tailored to meet state-specific requirements and often fail to incorporate contingencies that are necessary for a comprehensive and complete estate plan. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
  3. Not Requiring an Estate Plan. Although less of a scheme, some people think they do not need an estate plan. However, proper estate planning entails deciding who can make health care and financial decisions during life, in the event of incapacity. These documents help to minimize the need for family members to petition the Probate Court in certain situations.
  4. Paying High Legal Fees. Like many things in life, with an estate plan, you may get what you pay for. Paying money upfront to have your intentions memorialized in writing can minimize the expense. Heirs should be on guard if an attorney hired to administer an estate is charging exorbitant fees for what looks to be a well-prepared estate plan. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion in these situations.
  5. Signing Estate Planning Documents You Don’t Understand. Estate planning documents are designed to prepare for potential incapacity and for death. It is critical that your estate planning documents represent your intentions. However, if you don’t read them or don’t understand what you’ve read, you will have no idea if your goals are accomplished. Make certain that you understand what you’re signing. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explain these documents to you clearly and will make sure that you understand each of them before you sign.

You can avoid these common estate planning scams, by establishing a relationship with an experienced attorney you trust. If you would like to learn more about estate planning mistakes, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 7, 2021) “Beware of These Estate Planning Scams”

 

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protect assets and maintain Medicaid eligibility

Protect Assets and maintain Medicaid Eligibility

Medicaid is a welfare program with strict income and wealth limits to qualify, explains Kiplinger’s recent article entitled “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How.” This is a different program from Medicare, the national health insurance program for people 65 and over that largely doesn’t cover long-term care. There are a few ways to protect assets and maintain Medicaid eligibility.

If you can afford your own care, you’ll have more options because all facilities don’t take Medicaid. Even so, couples with ample savings may deplete all their wealth for the other spouse to pay for a long stay in a nursing home. However, you can save some assets for a spouse and qualify for Medicaid using strategies from an Elder Law or Medicaid Planning Attorney.

You can allocate as much as $3,259.50 of your monthly income to a spouse, whose income isn’t considered, and still maintain Medicaid eligibility. Your assets must be $2,000 or less, with a spouse allowed to keep up to $130,380. However, cash, bank accounts, real estate other than a primary residence, and investments (including those in an IRA or 401(k)) count as assets. However, you can keep a personal residence, non-luxury personal belongings (like clothes and home appliances), one vehicle, engagement and wedding rings and a prepaid burial plot.

However, your spouse may not have enough to live on. You could boost a spouse’s income with a Medicaid-compliant annuity. These turn your savings into a stream of future retirement income for you and your spouse and don’t count as an asset. You can purchase an annuity at any time, but to be Medicaid compliant, the annuity payments must begin right away with the state named as the beneficiary after you and your spouse pass away.

Another option is a Miller Trust for yourself, which is an irrevocable trust that’s used exclusively to maintain Medicaid eligibility. If your income from Social Security, pensions and other sources is higher than Medicaid’s limit but not enough to pay for nursing home care, the excess income can go into a Miller Trust. This allows you to qualify for Medicaid, while keeping some extra money in the trust for your own care. The funds can be used for items that Medicare doesn’t cover.

These strategies are designed to protect assets or income for couples; leaving an asset to other heirs is more difficult. Once you and your spouse pass away, the state government must recover Medicaid costs from your estate, when possible. This may be through a lien on your home, reimbursement from a Miller Trust, or seizing assets during the probate process, before they’re distributed to your family.

Note that any assets given away within five years of a Medicaid application date still count toward eligibility. Property transferred to heirs earlier than that is okay. One strategy is to create an irrevocable trust on behalf of your children and transfer property that way. You will lose control of the trust’s assets, so your heirs should be willing to help you out financially, if you need it. Work with an estate planning attorney to craft a plan that protects assets and maintains Medicaid eligibility.

If you would like to learn more about Medicaid planning, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Kiplinger (May 24, 2021) “You Can Keep Some Assets While Qualifying for Medicaid. Here’s How”

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protecting loved ones from elder abuse

Protecting Loved Ones from Elder Abuse

Predators had an open season on the elderly during the pandemic, as isolation necessitated by COVID severely limited family member’s ability to visit in person. In some instances, caregivers themselves were the predators, and manipulation on important legal documents, including durable power of attorney, trusts, wills and ownership of homes has occurred. All this was reported the article “Warning: Isolation Of Your Aging Parent May Be A Red Flag” from Forbes. The enforced isolation has created worrisome situations for all concerned. There are some basic steps to consider when protecting loved ones from elder abuse.

If you haven’t seen your parents or grandparents for a year or more, and are all fully vaccinated, one expert strongly encourages visitation, as soon as is possible. Use the visit to review all of their legal matters and talk about how to increase engagement and end the isolation.

Consider the following a checklist of what needs to be done to identify signs of elder abuse at that first visit:

Look for any signs that anyone who had access to loved ones may have taken advantage of their isolation during the past year. Don’t assume the best behavior of everyone around them. It’s not how we like to think, but caution needs to be exercised in this situation.

Check on their will and trusts. The pandemic has reminded everyone that life is fragile, and it’s important to go over legal documents or, if they don’t exist, create them. Find out if anyone has pressured family members to change legal documents—if they have been changed in the last year and you weren’t told about it, find out what happened.

If aging parents do not have a will or trusts, or these documents were altered in your absence, speak with an estate planning attorney who can create a new estate plan. Make sure all copies of older wills are destroyed. At the same time, this would be a good time to have their powers of attorney, healthcare proxy and living wills updated.

If your parent or grandparent lives on their own, find out if they are now in need of any caregiving. A year is a long time, and elderly people who started out fine during the epidemic may have had changes in their health or ability to live independently. Go see for yourself how they are managing. Is the house clean? Are the stairs too steep to be managed?

Not everyone will be able to return to “normal” without some help. Senior centers, gyms and recreational facilities have been shut down for a long time. They may need some help getting back into a routine of socializing and exercising.

The end of enforced isolation can also mean the end of an easy cover for anyone who was using isolation as a protection for financial elder abuse or any other type of abuse.

Isolation itself is a form of abuse, including not allowing others to visit in person or speak with a parent alone. You can protect loved ones from elder abuse by being engaged with family members on a regular basis, by phone, video visits or, if you are able to, more frequent in person visits.

If you would like to learn more about elder abuse and related topics, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: Forbes (April 23, 2021) “Warning: Isolation Of Your Aging Parent May Be A Red Flag”

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Social Isolation Increases Elder Financial Abuse

Social isolation increases elder financial abuse. Whether because of a pandemic or because an elderly person is alone, it is a leading factor contributing to the financial exploitation of seniors. The necessity of quarantining for older adults because of COVID has increased the number of people vulnerable to elder financial abuse, reports the article “Social Isolation and the Risk of Investment Fraud” from NASDAQ.com.

Financial abuse can take place at any time during a person’s life. However, scammers typically strike during times when seniors are more susceptible. It is usually during a health crisis, after the death of a loved one, or when younger family members live far away.

Scammers get information about their prospective victims by reading the obituaries and social media. They also become involved with senior social and support groups to ingratiate themselves into seniors’ lives.

Combine social isolation with lessening cognitive capacity and the situation is ripe for a scam. Senior investors are often flattered when their new-found friends praise their superior understanding of investment opportunities. Decreased judgment paired with a lifetime of savings is a welcome mat for thieves, especially when friends and family members are not able to visit and detect changes indicating that something bad is occurring.

Widowed or divorced seniors are more likely to be a victim of elder financial abuse. People who suffer from isolation, more and more often turn to the internet as a social outlet. Research shows that people are contacted by scammers through social media or pop-up messages on websites. Those who are dependent and engage more frequently in online life are more likely to engage with a scammer and lose more money than those who are targeted by phone or scamming emails.

How to protect yourself or your aging parents from fraud during quarantine

Scammers isolate their victims. Talk with family, friends, your estate planning attorney, or financial advisor for advice before making any decisions.

Do your homework first. If you don’t know how to do an internet search to see if the website or the person is a scammer, talk with a family member or professional advisor who can. Don’t invest money, unless you fully understand the risks and can verify the legitimacy of the offer and the company involved.

Educate yourself about finances and investments. This is a good project for people with too much time on their own. There are many worthwhile websites where you can learn about investments and finances. Look for well-known financial publishing companies. Don’t bother with marginal websites—that’s where fraudsters lurk.

Don’t be embarrassed to file a complaint. If you think you have been defrauded, you can file a complaint with the SEC, FINRA, and your state securities regulator. Your estate planning attorney will also know what resources you can tap to defend yourself.

Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse:

  • A new “friend” who suddenly appears and tries to keep family and friends away.
  • Someone who presses you to provide financial information and passwords to accounts.
  • Fear or anxiety when a certain person calls or sends a text.
  • Sudden and unexplained changes in estate planning documents or beneficiary designations.
  • Anyone who asks for passwords to financial accounts.

Generally speaking, anyone who promises a high return with no risk is not telling the truth. The same goes for anyone who tells you that you need to act fast.

Social isolation increases elder financial abuse.  Keep Seniors who are socially distant in touch with family and friends through phone calls, and if they can manage the devices, by video chat. Regular contact goes a long way in preventing strangers with bad intentions from insinuating themselves into your life or your parent’s lives.

If you would like to learn more about elder financial abuse, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: NASDAQ.com (Feb. 11, 2021) “Social Isolation and the Risk of Investment Fraud”

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What is the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act?

In 2013, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL) worked with his colleague, U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) to introduce the “Seniors Fraud Prevention Act” which broadens the role of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in monitoring and offering response systems for seniors who are victims of fraud. So what is the Seniors Fraud Prevention Act?

They’ve been advocating for their bill for seven years. The two Congressmen revived it in April 2019, with the support of U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT).

Florida Daily’s recent article entitled “Florida Congressmen Get Seniors Fraud Prevention Act Through the House” reports that U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) have been the champions of the bill for the past two years in the Senate.

“Scams set up specifically to go after American seniors and their hard-earned money are particularly despicable,” Deutch said when he introduced the bill in April 2019. “For the millions of American seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes, they should not have to worry about losing everything in their bank accounts because of extremely deceptive scams. They should be able to depend on their government and law enforcement to protect their financial security from fraud and scams.”

Deutch was able to add the bill into U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester’s (D-DE) “Stop Senior Scams Act,” which passed the House on a voice vote recently. Deutch was a co-sponsor of the bill. U.S. Sen. Bob Casey (D-PA) is working on the legislation in the Senate.

“Scams targeting seniors are becoming increasingly sophisticated and deceptive,” Deutch said on Tuesday. “To protect our seniors, many of whom live on fixed incomes and could lose a life’s worth of savings, we need a stronger response in tracking, targeting and warning against new scams. I hope the Senate will move quickly on this bill that could help seniors protect their assets.”

“Seniors have worked their entire lives with the promise of a safe and secure retirement,” Buchanan said. “Scams targeting the elderly are growing at a disturbing rate and threaten more than retirement accounts – they imperil the independence and trust of an already vulnerable community.”

The Seniors Fraud Prevention Act now is headed to the Senate.

“We must ensure all Americans have safety and dignity in their senior years, especially as we confront the coronavirus pandemic. New schemes designed to defraud seniors appear almost daily. These aren’t simply a nuisance—these scams can wipe out an entire life savings. Passing this bipartisan legislation is a critical step to combat fraud targeting seniors,” Klobuchar said.

If you would like to learn more about scams involving seniors, and other elder care issues, please visit our previous posts.

Reference: Florida Daily (Nov. 18, 2020) “Florida Congressmen Get Seniors Fraud Prevention Act Through the House”

 

when mom refuses to get an Estate Plan

Elder Financial Abuse on the Rise during the Pandemic

The same isolation that is keeping seniors safe during the pandemic is also making them easier targets for scammers, reports WKYC in a news report “Northeast Ohio family warns of elder financial exploitation.” While this report concerns a family in Ohio, seniors and families across the country are seeing elder financial abuse on the rise during the pandemic.

Two brothers enjoyed spending their time together throughout their lives. However, for the last three years, one of them, Michael Pekar, has been trying to undo a neighbor’s theft of his brother Ronnie’s estate. A few months before Ronnie died from cancer, a neighbor got involved with his finances, gained Power of Attorney and began stealing Ronnie’s life savings.

The money, more than a million dollars, had been saved for the sons by their mother. Pekar went to see an attorney, who helped uncover a sum of about $1.6 million that had been transferred from Ronnie into other accounts. A civil complaint was filed against the woman and $700,000 was eventually recovered, but nearly $1 million will never be recovered.

How can you prevent this from happening to your loved ones, especially those who are isolated during the COVID-19 pandemic?

An elderly person who is isolated is vulnerable. Long stretches of time without family contact make them eager for human connection. If someone new suddenly inserts themselves into your loved one’s life, consider it a red flag. Are new people taking over tasks of bill paying, or driving them to a bank, lawyer, or financial professional’s office? It might start out as a genuine offer of help but may not end that way.

The person committing the elder financial abuse does not have to be a stranger. In most cases, family members, like nieces, nephews or other relatives, prey on the isolated elderly person. The red flag is a sudden interest that was never there before.

Changes to legal or financial documents are a warning sign, especially if those documents have gone missing. Unexpected trips to attorneys you don’t know or switching financial advisors without discussing changes with children are another sign that something is happening. So are changes to email addresses and phone numbers. If your elderly aunt who calls every Thursday at 3 pm stops calling, or you can’t reach her, someone may be controlling her communications.

According to the CDC, about one in ten adults over age 60 are abused, neglected, or financially exploited.

With elder financial abuse on the rise during the pandemic, be sure to check in more frequently on elderly family members. Increased isolation can lead them to rely on others, making them vulnerable. I you would like to learn more about elder abuse, please visit our previous posts. 

Reference: WKYC (Nov. 19, 2020) “Northeast Ohio family warns of elder financial exploitation.”

 

Information in our blogs is very general in nature and should not be acted upon without first consulting with an attorney. Please feel free to contact The Wiewel Law Firm to schedule a complimentary consultation.
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