Push Back on Elder Abuse with Good Estate Planning

A Jamaica man was charged with tricking his 101-year-old neighbor into handing over the deed to his house last week. A trio of Maspeth thieves pleaded guilty to posing as grandchildren and even recruiting kids to rob senior citizens’ homes in July. In Flushing, a man allegedly begged an elderly victim to wire him $41,000 to post non-existent bail in the Dominican Republic.

These are just three out of many elder abuse cases that have made their way to the Queens (New York) County Criminal Court in recent weeks, reports the Queens Daily Eagle in its article “Nuanced Directives, Power of Attorney Can Stem Elder Abuse.” These cases of elder abuse, fraud, and predation are reflective of a far larger problem.

As this borough of New York ages, the instances of predatory behavior and outright scams are getting worse. Predators often start out as well-intentioned caregivers.  However, they then start to take advantage of the senior under their care. They may start as someone who comes every day to check on the senior, helping with bills and then they see the senior’s assets. Sometimes they begin thinking they are entitled to some or all the senior’s assets.

Other types of abuse include stealing deeds to homes, when younger people establish seemingly caring relationships with elderly people, marrying them and then stealing their money while isolating the victims from their families. This is sometimes called “granny-napping,” where the caregiver manipulates the senior and turns them against other loved ones or former caregivers.

Cases like this turn to heartbreak for genuine, caring family members. The abuser poisons their loving relationship with a parent or grandparents.

One way to stem this abuse, is to ensure that older adults have advanced directives before something occurs. The estate planning or elder law attorney can tailor the document, so the person does not forfeit their rights or property, while putting legal protection in place.

What needs to be understood is this: the person who signs the document and becomes a senior’s representative has a fiduciary duty to act in the best interest of the person. If they breach that duty, there are legal consequences. 

Bar associations work with attorneys across the country to help them in identifying and stopping elder abuse. The attorneys work with people in the healthcare field and in real estate, two areas where elder abuse occurs.

When an attorney suspects that elder abuse is taking place, the attorney has an option not to represent the agent and refer a case for guardianship on the grounds that the adult is being abused.

In markets where real estate values have skyrocketed, another real estate scam is for property hunters to go to Surrogate’s Court and find out who has died and who has inherited their estate. They approach heirs they deem to be financially or emotionally vulnerable and coax them into selling their property, usually for far below market value.

Putting an estate plan in place, can protect seniors from elder abuse. Speak with an estate planning attorney, to make sure that you or your loved ones are prepared for these scenarios.

Reference: Queens Daily Eagle (Aug. 8, 2018) “Nuanced Directives, Power of Attorney Can Stem Elder Abuse”

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