Kemp Klein

Your Family: Preventing Financial Abuse

A growing legal problem is financial abuse of the elderly. Older persons are increasingly vulnerable because they are often frail, trusting and/or lonely. They are targeted, not only by neighbors and family members, but by telemarketers, door-to-door salespersons, bank tellers and other semi-professionals with whom they come in contact.

Review these warning signs to determine whether your elderly family member or friend could be at risk for this type of abuse. Be aware that you CAN take legal action against these abuses.

The forms of financial abuse that may occur include the following:

• “Borrowed money” which is never repaid;
• Unusual investments that produce little or no returns;
• Sales of assets for less than fair market value;
• Unneeded estate planning documents;
• Estate planning documents that allow strangers or peripheral relatives to take over assets; and/or
• Money or other assets stolen by fraud or trickery.

People are often too embarrassed to admit they have been taken advantage of and therefore avoid seeking help. You can assist by identifying suspicious situations and encouraging or helping the elderly person to seek legal advice.

Indicators of financial exploitation can include the following:

• A confused older person that executes estate planning documents, such as a power of attorney;
• Erratic or unusual bank activity;
• Inconsistent bank activity, such as an ATM card being used when the older person is housebound;
• Changes in property titles or wills;
• Suspicious signatures on documents;
• A lack of necessities or amenities when the older person can obviously afford them;
• Recent new acquaintances, in particular, those who suddenly take up residence with an older person;
• Suspicious activity on credit card accounts or other financial accounts;
• The older person is not allowed to speak for himself/herself or to make decisions;
• The older person is not cared for;
• The residence is particularly un-kept when family members visit;
• Mail is redirected to a different address; and/or
• Seclusion of an older adult from friends and family.

Our specialists in elder law, guardianships, estate planning and litigation have responded to financial abuse cases in a variety of ways. Often it is necessary to obtain probate court involvement to invalidate questionable documents and/or to establish a trusted family member as the guardian of the elderly person. In some situations, litigation is needed to recover assets that have been wrongfully converted to a manipulative outsider.

The drafting of a Power of Attorney can also help to prevent this sort of problem from occurring. In addition, awell-drafted Trust can provide for a successor Trustee to take control of assets in the event that a person becomes confused or unable to manage his or her own affairs.

If you suspect that a friend or relative is being financially abused, do not hesitate to contact us so we can determine if a legal remedy is needed and available. In most cases we can assist in protecting assets or recovering them.

For further information regarding these matters, please contact Joseph Buttiglieri at 248 740 5696 or via email.