Financial abuse of elderly individuals is a criminal offense. Not only does this crime steal older adults of their assets, in some cases due to the drain on their assets, it steals their independence.
If you see signs of fraud, theft, or misuse of a person’s resources or credit, you should be on alert. If you suspect a person is using undue influence to gain control of a senior citizen’s assets or property, contact authorities with your concerns.
There are ways you can protect yourself or an aging loved one from fraudsters.
How To Protect Yourself As A Senior Citizen
1. Meet with your estate planning attorney and financial adviser or tax professional to create an estate plan that protects your assets and provides for your loved ones after your death. If you feel unduly pressured by friends or family members to gift them money or other assets, your attorney can prepare a trust based estate plan that will protect your assets from these uninvited requests, but still provide for all of your personal needs and expenses.
2. Select a trusted person or financial institution to act as your agent in the event you become incapacitated and need assistance with paying bills, taxes and making other financial decisions. If you name a family member or friend, you may want to consider naming two (2) individuals to share the responsibility as a way to create a checks and balances system. You should have a legal document known as a Durable General Power of Attorney prepared by your attorney to appoint someone to act as your agent. This Power of Attorney will hold an individual legally responsible for any financial misconduct committed by them while acting as your agent.
3. All financial information such as receipts, bank statements and unused credit cards should be shredded before being thrown away.
4. Never, EVER, provide your personal information, including your Social Security Number, or any financial information over the telephone unless you initiated the call and you have verified that the other party is
someone you know and trust. If you have any doubt, obtain a telephone number from the caller and ask to call them back. This will allow you time to call your banker, or a trusted person to establish the validity of the original call.
5. Legitimate lottery, sweepstakes and other contests will never require a payment from you to collect your winnings.
6. When you enter any type of contract, whether it be for home repair, an automobile purchase, or an investment purchase, do not be persuaded to rush to a decision. Ask for details in writing and seek a second opinion if you have any questions about the terms of the agreement.
7. Always consult YOUR attorney if you are asked to sign a legally binding document, particularly if you have questions or do not understand the terms. This includes signing a deed, mortgage, title, or contract for sale of real estate. If you do not have a relationship with an attorney, now is a good time to establish that contact.
8. Keep your credit cards, checkbook, cash and other valuables out of sight and in a secure location when you have visitors or workers in or around your home, including caregivers, housekeepers or relatives with whom you do not have a good relationship. Ideally, these items would be securely locked away.
9. Develop a relationship with your banker. If you become alarmed that unauthorized transactions have occurred, he or she can help keep an eye on your bank account activity and notify you of any suspicious or fraudulent activity.
10. Always check references and credentials of any individual you hire to work on your home PRIOR to allowing them access to your home. Never discuss your financial situation with these individuals. Get a bid for the work IN WRITING before work begins. Always pay with a check or credit card (NOT CASH) to create a paper trail and document your payments.
11. Do not sign any blank checks and ask another person to fill in the amount. Review your monthly bank and credit card statements for any unusual transactions.
What Can You Do If You Believe You Are A Victim Of Financial Abuse
1. Contact a trusted friend or family member, or clergy member and explain your concerns. An outside perspective often can provide you with the insight you need on the situation.
2. Alert your banker to your concerns and provide them with examples of your suspicions.
3. Speak with a Police Officer, your Attorney or Doctor.
What Are Signs That Indicate Possible Financial Abuse Of A Senior Citizen?
1. Unusual, large, or frequent banking transactions that are not typical for the individual and for which is there is no reasonable explanation.
2. If the individual has recently changed banks, the type of banking accounts, or added names to their bank account or signature card.
3. Suspicious banking activity such as recent attempts to wire money, new and frequent use of an ATM card, new applications for credit cards, closing CDs or retirement accounts without regard to penalties and tax consequences, insufficient funds notices, and checks written out as “loan”, “gift”, or “cash” can all be potential red flags of financial abuse. Also, keep an eye on out of sequence check numbers.
4. A new friend, previously uninvolved family member or caretaker attempts to gain control of the elderly adult’s financial affairs without the proper documentation. Likewise, if an individual suddenly begins to accompany the senior citizen to the bank to make withdrawals, be watchful.
5. A caregiver increasingly isolating an older adult from family and friends is a warning sign. Similarly, if an aging adult seems hesitant or fearful to speak in the presence of the caregiver, do not ignore this sign.
6. Unpaid bills despite the individual having sufficient income and resources.
7. A senior often will consent to unusually large loans, gifts and other financial arrangements out of a sense of duty, obligation or family loyalty. Shame or fear over the situation is a common response to this kind of manipulation. If the aging adult is reluctant to discuss these issues and seems embarrassed, reassure them that you are there to help without judgment.
8. Sudden changes in the person’s Will, deeds, account beneficiaries, or other financial documents that seem out of character are clues that something illicit might be going on and a deeper look is necessary.
What Should You Do If You Suspect Financial Abuse
If you suspect financial abuse, talk to your aging friend or loved one if any of these signs are present. If your suspicions remain after you have obtained sufficient information regarding their financial situation, you should report the potential abuse by contacting the Kansas Department of Children and Families Abuse and Neglect Hotline at 1-800-922-5330. Finally, report all elder financial abuse to your local police. If fraud has occurred (forged checks, for example), they should investigate the matter.
For information regarding estate planning for older adults, contact Davis & McCann, P. A., Dodge City, KS. We are members of Wealth Counsel, a national consortium of Estate Planning Attorneys and focus our practice on providing clients with the best legal advice on estate planning, Medicaid and Long-term Care Planning, Family Business/Small Business Succession Planning, Probate, Trust Administration, Real Estate Transactions, and related matters.
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