Seniors suffering from Alzheimer’s disease or dementia are at an increased risk of financial exploitation. Each health condition results in a progressive cognitive impairment that can be taken advantage of by the unscrupulous. As a recent true story from Massachusetts illustrates, Alzheimer’s disease can render seniors susceptible to even the most strange of schemes.
A 74-year-old Massachusetts woman suffering from progressive dementia and living in a nursing home has a pet named Puddy Cat. Puddy Cat is so dear to the woman that she created a trust in the animal’s name worth nearly half a million dollars. This “Puddy Cat Trust,” created in the woman’s will, provided that, upon her death, Puddy Cat was to be cared for through the trust and that all remaining assets were to be used for the benefit of animal welfare groups.
Seeing an opportunity to profit at the expense of the woman and Puddy Cat, two neighbors made efforts to befriend the woman and offered to take care of the feline. The pair are accused of swindling the woman out of her life savings, and Puddy Cat out of its inheritance, and they have been charged with embezzlement, larceny, intimidation, and perjury. They allegedly gained access to the woman’s financial assets and bank accounts, withdrawing nearly $200,000 in a 12-month span. The money was not used to care for Puddy Cat, as the two promised, but rather for a prolonged spending spree.
Believe it or not, pet trusts like the one the woman created in her will for Puddy Cat are valid, subject to a few restrictions. People love their pets and want to ensure that they will be taken care of; pet trusts are a way of doing so. Pet trusts are valid during the pet owner’s life and after his or her death. These trusts also allow provisions for incapacity – something that the woman might have considered. There are two main types of pet trusts:
Traditional Pet Trusts. Effective in all states, a traditional pet trusts instructs a trustee to aid the individual who is providing care for a pet after it’s owner’s death by paying for the pet’s expenses in accordance with the owner’s directions, and so long as the pet caregiver beneficiary takes proper care of the pet.
Statutory Pet Trusts. Authorized in over forty states, a statutory pet trust is a basic plan and does not require the pet owner to make as many decisions with regard to the terms of the trust. Rather, state law fills in the gaps. For example, a simple will provision stating, “I leave $5,000 in trust for the care of my dog, Penny” may be effective in a state where statutory pet trusts are authorized.
Reducing the Risk of Financial Exploitation
Those who prey on the trust of the cognitively impaired must be held accountable. If you or a loved one is at risk of financial exploitation, be sure to contact a New York estate planning lawyer with experience in dealing with these issues.
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