Like I said yesterday, I wanted to talk about financial abuse of elders in a separate blog post. I feel like there is more for someone like me (a lawyer) to write about on this topic than under the aegis of any other form of abuse.
I'm not even going to delve into how bad the issue of financial abuse is: suffice it to say IT IS BAD. People are losing their life savings in scams foisted upon them by spam email and spam phone calls from all over the world. People are being swindled out of their homes, literally, by those who are supposed to be acting in the senior's fiduciary interests. Financial abuse of the elderly is not limited to any socio-economic group. What can a lawyer do to help you or a senior loved one avoid elder financial abuse? Again, to me, its all about hardening the target.
Step one: Everyone needs a will, a financial power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. Check with your lawyer or talk to us and we can help you get these foundational documents. These documents form the base safeguard "wall" around your assets and the decision making ability of the person who has the particular document in effect. The will tells everyone that you have a plan for things, and canfi help deter "issues" like people fighting over a senior's possessions. It can help deter fraudsters. The powers of attorney prevent fraud too, by helping to stop unauthorized folks from claiming authority over an elderly person that they do not have. The whole world knows that XYZ has the POA of a person, and therefore, ABC cannot come in and claim they have that same power.
Step two: Beyond estate planning, think about document and other physical asset security. Can a senior's bank account be made "limited access" so that there are no outside forces that can access the funds? Are all the computer assets of the senior secure: we often think that security takes care of itself--if your grandmother likes to do facebook on the wifi at the local coffeeshop, is her phone/laptop protected with a VPN and screen password? Does anyone have a list of the "shutdown numbers" for all the senior's credit cards and banks, so if the senior loses their pocketbook, and calls in a panic, that all 14 of the department stores and banks and other credit card companies can be made to put out a fraud alert? The list here is almost endless. We take very good care of our financial documents, and digital resources, but what is the elderly neighbor of yours doing to help prevent fraud from occurring on him? Give them a hand!
Step three: Check with the experts. When was the last time the senior talked to their CPA? Did their taxes? Talked to their financial advisor? Who ARE their CPA, financial advisor (for that matter, who is their lawyer?!) If you happen to by the POA for someone, and the POA provisions have not been "activated" yet, you still might want to have a sit-down with the person who you're the POA for, and their financial services providers. Couldn't hurt to know that they haven't done their taxes in 7 years, or that they are using a financial advisor that has their assets in investments that make no sense. Something to think about.
Here's a final thought on this. Make sure that the senior understands that there is no shame or embarrassment necessary during this whole process. Sometimes people are afraid to talk about bad things that happened to them in the past--which leads to other bad things happening to them in the future. Financial fraud on the elderly is very preventable. Lets be open and honest with each other and talk about these things, so they stop happening to some of our most vulnerable.
Jeff Sodoma, MPA, Esq. is a lawyer based in Virginia Beach, Virginia
Hello, there! Welcome to my blog. I will use this blog as a platform for my writing. I will write about topics in the legal world, certainly, as well as everything else under the sun, because I have many interests (and viewpoints). All views expressed in this blog, unless otherwise noted, are mine alone. One of my interests is music--my wife believes that I should go on "Beat Shazam" because I know so many songs--and I will be, from time to time, analyzing song lyrics and how they relate to the legal world.