Articles Posted in Senior Financial Exploitation

TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT

It is never an easy decision to make decisions for another person when it is the other person who has to live with the consequences of those decisions. That is doubly true when there is not any family relation or close ties that bind you. When you are deciding for a family member, say for example an aged parent or grandparent, at least you have the benefit of years worth of conversations and their larger thoughts on certain key matters of health and health decisions. You can look back and remember what they did or said in certain similar scenarios. What about those who do not have any such close relatives who decide for them? There is a class of professional guardians across the state and country who are professional in every sense of the term. They examine an issue and consider the best way to get the answer by asking further questions of the experts, such as doctors, therapists, social workers and so on. The hardest decision that any guardian has to make, regardless of whether or not they had the benefit of ties of affinity, is whether or not to terminate treatment for an incompetent patient. By what yardstick do they measure their decisions?

If a patient already expressed their clear desire in the past as to what they want to do, the decision that the guardian must make will be much easier. The 1972 New Jersey case of In Re Quinlan sums up the decision making in this case best. In Quinlan, a young woman was in a vegetative state from which she was not likely going to recover. Her father applied to the Court to be her guardian so he could have the life supporting medical apparatus removed. The trial Court denied this application, although the state Supreme Court found a Constitutional right to privacy in such decisions to remove oneself from life support that the state cannot intervene in. Since she could do it personally, her guardian could do the same in her absence. The legal protections that control a guardian’s decisions ensure that guardians do not make their decisions with improper motive.

Elder financial exploitation is a nuanced term for a growing problem–the financial abuse of the elderly.

Financial abuse of the elderly is a growing concern in today’s society. There are more senior citizens now than ever before and many of them are institutionalized or require help to get by in life. These dependent situations create an environment where the elderly can be taken advantage of financially.

What Is Financial Abuse?

Legendary actor Mickey Rooney died earlier this month at the age of 93. Over the later course of his life, Rooney offered many important lessons related to elder law estate planning. For one thing, he was a vocal advocate against senior financial exploitation. In 2011 he testified before a U.S. Senate committee that was analyzing the various aspects of elder abuse. Rooney told the committee that he was emotionally and financially abused at the hand of his step-children (the biological children of his estranged wife).

At that hearing, Rooney echoed the thoughts of many New York seniors who were in the same situation, explaining, “For years I suffered silently. I didn’t want to tell anybody […] Even when I tried to speak up, I was told to shut up and be quiet.”

Fighting Continued After Death

Advances in brain research are shedding new light on how our minds function. This includes understanding how we process decisions related to finances as well as how our decision-making changes as we age. Taken together, the new knowledge offers an important affirmation of the need to guard against senior financial exploitation and mismanagement.

The Science of Emotions

A Wall Street Journal story this week explained new neuroscientific findings that show a shift in mental activity as brains age. Specifically, older minds focus more than younger ones on blocking out negative emotions and experiences while maximizing positive emotions and interactions. This is referred to as “socioemotional selectivity.”

It is somewhat cliche to claim that a social problems is under-appreciated or misunderstood. But if any issue fits that bill, then it is senior financial exploitation. According to many reports of the problem, odds suggest that virtually all New Yorkers know someone who is affected by this problem–though the senior may never report the mistreatment. According to most estimates, every year a staggering $3 billion is lost by seniors who are exploited financially. This is not an isolated problem. If affects seniors of all income levels and in various living situations.

The New York City Council’s Committee on Aging chairperson explained recently that elder abuse is “a nearly silent epidemic due largely to underreporting and lack of public awareness.’

A Push for Protection

An 87-year old New York man slowly began showing signs of Alzheimer’s. A widower, without many close family members, the senior befriended many people around him. For example, he often used the same cab driver, and he and the younger man grew to know one another. Eventually, the senior’s cognitive challenges placed him in real danger of harming himself or his interests. The details are a little fuzzy, but somehow the cab driver was appointed the man’s legal guardian by a court, providing him significant control over all of the senior’s affairs.

What the elderly man did not know, however, was that the cab driver had a checkered history. The driver was a convicted bank robber, and he quickly went back to his old ways after gaining control of the senior’s life. The guardian bought a new Humvee, spent time at strip clubs, and purchased a wide range of gifts for himself—all on the senior’s dime. Fortunately, the abuse was uncovered–the guardian is now in prison. However, the financial damage was already done and the senior lost nearly $640,000 that will never be returned.

Guardianship abuse is a common problem. Elder care planning is critical to avoid falling victim.

Advice is often given about checking a senior relative’s bank statements frequently to identify potential theft. Large cash withdrawals, donations to strange charities, and similar red flags should be pursued.

But sometimes elder financial exploitation is so bold, that victims–or their relatives–may not realize that they were mistreated.

For example, it is easy to overlook a large payment if it seems to be made for a reputable reason. Doctor’s payments may be quite large, but when skimming bank records, that payment may not immediately jump out as fraudulent. This creates an opening for exploitation.

Elder financial exploitation is often one of those problems that community members believe only happens to “other people.” When reading stories about seniors falling for scams or being exploited by caregivers it is easy to view them as one-of-a-kind examples. But the truth is the exact opposite: elder financial exploitation is referred to by observers as an epidemic. It is prudent for all New York families to take preventative steps to minimize the chance of a loved one falling victim.

Misplaced Trust

One story that made headlines last week is a reminder of how scammers eager to take advantage of seniors can cause harm from anywhere. According to a report from NBC, the scam artist began by knocking on the senior’s door in a panic. The man pretended to be distraught, and was in tears while falsely claiming that his own parents were just killed in an automobile accident.

The American Health Care Association (AHCA) is leading the effort this year as part of the official “National Nursing Home Week” which was designated as May 12th through the 18th. More information on the event can be found here.

The purpose of the Week is to raise awareness of various needs of the long-term care community. In addition, it is used by many local facilities to better connect senior residents with their neighbors. Unfortunately, there remains somewhat of a barrier between nursing home residents and others–the seniors in these facilities are often viewed as “others.” Instead, many elder care advocates urge a more holistic outlook, where the skills of seniors are valued and they are viewed as an integral part of any neighborhood.

The official theme of these year’s National Nursing Home Week is “Team Care.” According to the AHCA this theme, “recognizes residents and patients in long term and post-acute care settings, the dedicated staff who care for them, and the value of care planning where everyone ‘pitches in’ for optimal outcomes.”

Most discussions of elder financial exploitation include accusations of unique scams targeted at trusting seniors. As we discussed last week, many wrongdoers try to swindle the elderly community via insurance frauds, home repair schemes, and similar techniques. These are very real dangers that must be guarded against. However, it is a mistake to assume that all scams are committed by random strangers.

The sad reality is that many act of elderly financial exploitation are perpetrated by family members. Because of a senior’s propensity to trust their relatives and/or not wish to come forward with suspicions against loved ones, financial crimes committed by friends and family are particularly hard to identify. Experts working on these affairs point out that the vast majority of these situations never result in liability. In other words–wrongdoers often get away with it. The “success” rate of this exploitation is one reason why it continues to be perpetrated time and again. That makes it incumbent on all of us to do everything in our power to check on vulnerable friends and relatives and put plans in minimize the risk of harm.

Fraudulent Deed

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