Our law firm has compiled data over the last 30 years of predictors that are warning signs that elder financial abuse is occurring or is about to be committed against an elderly relative.
Unfortunately, this data has been gathered through years of client and witness interviews only after significant elder financial abuse has occurred.
Typically, elder financial abuse is committed by someone who is very close to the victim, knows the victim very well, has access to the individual, and is a trusted individual.
It is important to note that financial exploitation is fueled by motive and opportunity.
It is no surprise that the typical perpetrator of elder financial abuse is not a professional caregiver or casual acquaintance of the victim, but a family member who has the motive and opportunity to commit elder financial abuse.
Elder financial abuse or exploitation occurs in various forms. It includes theft or embezzlement of joint bank accounts, raiding stock brokerage accounts or mutual fund accounts that have an individual’s savings, gaining access to an individual’s Social Security or retirement savings account.
It may also involve what is known as undue influence, where an elderly individual is pressured to change their will or trust to name the perpetrator as the sole or major beneficiary of the family home or other assets in the trust or provided by the will. It may involve obtaining a power of attorney in which embezzlement of assets occurs.
It may also involve changing the individual’s trust to make them trustees of the trust to gain access to the trust property at a later time.
It may also involve gaining access to safe deposit boxes, changing beneficiaries, designations and documents to life insurance, annuities, and other financial instruments.
Here are our top ten warning signs of elder financial abuse, that if they been promptly discovered, could have stopped or altogether prevent elder financial abuse. Remember, by preventing elder financial abuse you are protecting the health and welfare of your loved one.
- Suspected sibling/perpetrator who has access to the elderly parent suddenly breaks off communication with you for little or no reason.
- Your access to your parent is significantly blocked by perpetrator above (i.e., mom is not available to talk on the phone, a family visit is not the right time, etc.)
- You repeatedly ask for a family meeting with other siblings with mom and dad to discuss finances and their financial security, but it never seems to be a good time.
- Mom and dad have had an episode requiring hospitalization and/or skilled nursing home care and financial information seems to be missing or unavailable.
- Mom and dad are suffering from dementia or severe memory loss.
- There has been a sudden change in trusted legal or financial advisors for mom or dad with little or no sensible explanation.
- You have asked for copies of mom or dad’s estate plan from a sibling and is always promised but never delivered.
- The caretaker sibling often suddenly loses their job or says they are now available to be a caregiver for mom or dad when there was never any such prior interest.
- A sibling, without being a caregiver, starts showing unusual interest in mom or dad and their finances, coupled with their own personal financial hardship.
- Mom or dad starts complaining that they are poor, and they have no money and bills suddenly are going unpaid.
If one or more of these warning signals occur, a family member, or other trusted friend, has various legal avenues to explore. Often, an elder law attorney can impose a conservatorship or change in trustees by going to Court and demonstrate through facts and evidence that a new family member or other independent person needs to be appointed as an individual to secure and take control of the elderly individual’s finances. The Probate Court has the power to void or cancel improperly obtained changes to a will or trust, cancel deeds to property, such as the elderly individual’s home, and order the perpetrator to repay money or funds that were improperly taken.
The key to the success of repayment and repairing the damage to the security of an elderly individual’s financial health is to identify these warning signs as early as possible and obtain competent legal assistance. In our next article, we will explore safeguards and keys to prevention against elder financial abuse.
Michael D. Rudy, Esq.