Sunday, September 13, 2015
We thought we were on top of Dad's finances. He had seemed able to manage his own affairs and we frequently discussed major decisions but shortly after my Mom passed my Father was approached by a broker selling an investment product. Since my Dad was still handling his own finances he chose to meet with the salesman. Before we were even aware Dad had invested quite a sum of money in a product that would not mature until 2036 (my Dad was 90 at the time.) Once we found out there was little we could do. Dad had been competent when he had signed the papers but was still very much grieving my Mom's passing. Even though we tried hard to protect our family - it happened to us.
According to a recent survey (2010 Investor Protection Trust) one out of five older Americans 65+ is the victim of financial fraud or abuse. It's not surprising since persons over age 50 control over 70% of our nation's wealth. Financial fraud and abuse is also not limited to unscrupulous salesman or scams. In fact a large portion of abuse against the elderly comes directly from people they know and trust ( children, grandchildren, caregivers and trusted professionals).
So, how does this happen? Sadly it's relatively simple and almost impossible to track. Since seniors are often dependent on family members and others for assistance with finances it exposes them to fraud. Also the lack of understanding of new banking and finance tracking through electronic means puts seniors at a disadvantage in monitoring their accounts. Often seniors aren't exactly sure what their total net worth is and the extent of the assets they have available to them. No one likes to think that a family member, friend or caregiver would misappropriate funds for personal use but it happens all the time.
Recently while working with a family who was seeking Medicaid assistance for their Mother I learned that Mom had owned a home in a nice suburb. I inquired as to whether that could be used as an asset to be sold to help pay for her care. Her son informed me that as Power of Attorney he had made arrangements for the home to be put in his name. When I advised him that Medicaid would do a 60 month "look back" period for transfer of assets he became very angry with me. He had already sold his home, pocketed the cash and moved into Mom's home with plans to have Medicaid handle her expenses. He wanted to shoot the messenger - and unfortunately the messenger was ME!
(for more information on asset allocation for seniors: www.elderlawanswers.com)
So where do we turn to keep our seniors safe from financial fraud and abuse?
1. Almost all states offer some form of Adult Protective Services. While in most cases an agency like APS can not punish the perpetrator they can take steps to protect the senior from further abuse.
2. Have more than one family member or trusted friend acting as a second fiduciary.
3. Sign up for the National DO NOT CALL registry 888-382-1222
4. Shred all out of date personal and financial papers - and keep all legal and financial papers in a locked safe location in your home.
5. Request a free annual credit report every year.
6. Do not enter contests, sweepstakes, giveaways through the mail or on line. Do not click on line links that request verification of personal data.
7. Donate only to charities that you are familiar with and preferably localized.
Integrity in dealing with the financial aspects of our senior's legacy is important. Knowing the pitfalls and what to look for can make a difference. For more information on financial abuse and how to avoid it :
Protecting our loved ones is our sacred trust.
If you have information to share on how to avoid financial abuse or a story that would benefit others please post it here.