A new documentary is slated for release that will tackle an issue with which our New York elder law attorneys are familiar: senior financial exploitation. Entitled Last Will and Embezzlement the film will touch on all aspects of the problem with the ultimate goal of raising awareness of the problem to ultimately lower the incidence of mistreatment.
The centerpiece of the film is an extended interview with perhaps the most well-known advocate against elder financial abuse: Mickey Rooney. The 91-year old film star testified before Congress last year while detailing abuse that he suffered at the hands of a family member. His purpose in appearing in the film is to dispel the myth that this sort of exploitation occurs only to those who live alone or have few close friends and family members. In fact the documentary tagline is: “If it can happen to Mickey Rooney, it can happen to anybody.”
The filmmaker herself was motivated to take on the project after watching her father fall victim to this sort of abuse. She explains how her father was in a nursing home, when mysteriously, a stranger entered the facility and claimed to be his son. The senior had just lost his wife and was suffering from severe Alzheimer’s at the time. The filmmaker admits that her father “would have signed the Magna Carta” if it was placed in front of him at that point in his life.
The scammer used his lie about being a relative to acquire sensitive financial information and exploit the ailing senior. The man also acquired a Power of Attorney over the senior, making it incredibly difficult for the family to unravel the problem down the road. It ultimately took two years before the woman finally learned of the depth of the exploitation.
Her advice: “Set it up so you don’t become a victim…know the laws against elder abuse.”
Planning and oversight are crucial preventative steps. Obviously having elder law attorneys and other advocates in the mix is one way to ensure abusers aren’t able to slip in, obtain legal documents, and otherwise wreak havoc on the life of a vulnerable senior who may not fully understand the situation.
Some help may also be coming in the form of federal legislation. New York Senator Chuck Schumer, for example, is fighting for stepped up federal laws requiring more mandatory reporting of suspicions of elder mistreatment. While these new rules may help, by no means do they offer clear avenues to eliminate all mistreatment. At the end of the day it will still come down to close oversight and proper preparation before disability or cognitive vulnerability sets in.
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