The local news from time to time reports cases of elderly people who have been the victims of financial abuse and lost their life savings. The signs of abuse are often there but no one is looking or family members don’t realize the significance of what they see. Often the situation is complicated because the elder has become dependent on a caregiver and can’t accept that he or she is a predator. The elder resists help and resents family involvement. Self-denial is common. Predators understand these dynamics and how to manipulate the elderly. Those who suffer from some diminished capacity, especially those in denial of the changes they are going through, are prime targets.
Following are a few tips to watch out for and things you can do to protect your loved ones.
Tip 1: Where Home Caregivers are Involved
Where a caregiver is looking after an elder, he or she may attempt to isolate the elder from other family members. The caregiver may, for example, always be the first to answer the phone and not allow family members to speak to the elderly parent. Maintaining regular contact with the elderly family member will allow you to more easily protect him or her from inappropriate relationships. Visit the home, watch the interaction.
Another clue is where the caregiver insists on being first to the mailbox. If the elder has granted the caregiver a power of attorney or added her to financial accounts, this is a major red flag and immediate action should be taken. Make sure the elder’s estate planning documents, such as a financial power of attorney or living trust, can be located and are secure.
Tip 2: When New Romances Surface
It can often come as a surprise to realize that an elder parent who has lost a spouse has entered into a new romantic relationship. If the object of the parent’s affections is considerably younger, the younger person could be in it only for financial gain. These types of situations are often difficult to deal with, speak about, and prevent.
If you know or suspect that an elderly family member has begun a new romantic relationship and have concerns, speak up early, especially if the elderly person is suffering from cognitive problems such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Meet the new person. These interventions can be very difficult, but they may be necessary to prevent further harm. In extreme cases, I have heard of family members who hire private investigators, but this should be done with great caution because it could cause permanent damage to family relations — even if your suspicions prove true.
Involve an estate planning lawyer. I have a widowed doctor client from Hungary who was determined to fly to his home country and return with a new bride. She was clearly in it for the money and so she could become an American citizen. His children couldn’t make him see he was a victim; he was lonely and felt they just didn’t like his new paramour. But with my help, the good doctor finally realized she was a predator.
If the marriage or co-habitation with the new lover is going to continue and it’s not a passing fancy, then a pre-nuptial agreement or a co-habitation agreement should be looked into.
Tip 3: Set up Buffers
An effective way to protect an elder is to arrange for an independent advisor or counselor. That advisor can keep an eye on financial accounts and report suspicious transactions that may smell of financial abuse.
Family can ask for online access to accounts, or arrange to pay bills online. A family member can be given financial power of attorney or be appointed a co-Trustee on a living trust so that he or she can have access to accounts to monitor them.
Developing relationships with bank branch managers can be very effective as they are trained to watch for signs of abuse.
Tip 4: Consult a Lawyer
A good estate planning lawyer, especially one who understands elder financial abuse, should be consulted to help elder family members arrange their affairs to avoid being a victim. Once abuse is suspected, legal counsel should be seen at once.