retirement

Elder financial abuse hurts the economy

Signs of elder financial abuse

Dickison, a Certified Senior Advisor whose company provides various levels of caregiver and companion services for seniors, says anecdotal evidence suggests that for every reported incident of abuse, five more go unreported. She advises family members and friends to pay attention to signs that the senior may be compromised, which include:

  • Significant withdrawals from bank accounts.
  • Items and cash missing from the home.
  • Changes made in wills, titles, etc.
  • Forging of the elder's signature.

  • Purchase of unnecessary services, goods or subscriptions.
  • Financial activity that could not have been initiated by the senior, such as ATM withdrawals when the account holder is bedridden.

Experts such as Dickison also urge that families stay in close contact with their elderly relatives -- something that can be particularly daunting with family members often spread out over long distances.

"What we can do is regularly call ... and encourage them to join support networks, whether online or community-based," says Dickison. She also recommends keeping in contact on Facebook and through Skype, and recruiting trusted neighbors to check in on the older adult from time to time.

Taking legal steps

Tom Fields' personal experience has led him to crusade for more effective legislation targeting elder financial abuse. "There is a clear lack of protection under current laws and legislation," says Fields, who is from Mentor, Ohio. He believes that in addition to current law being insufficient, law enforcement often has little idea of how to handle these cases.

It's true that police reaction to cases of elder financial abuse varies widely from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, and there is little crime-specific training available to them. Many jurisdictions treat these cases as civil, rather than criminal, cases, leaving families to struggle with stopping the siphoning of an elderly person's assets via a sluggish court system.

Ryan Zenk, an estate planning attorney and Certified Financial Planner professional, says he's witnessed many seniors lose everything to swindlers. Until legislation and education catch up to the seriousness of these crimes, Zenk suggests that seniors or responsible family members put a series of checks and balances in place to discourage theft. Here are his recommendations.

  • Have co-agents under the power of attorney so someone has oversight.
  • Have a guardian/conservator appointed for the benefit of the senior.
  • Avoid naming a child as joint owner of a bank/financial account because he or she can legally access assets without recourse. Zenk adds that this can also lead to tax problems and issues with Medicaid.
  • Set up a trust to hold assets with a trustee who has fiduciary requirements to protect those assets, since failing to do so can have significant ramifications.

 

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