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You Can Avoid Elder Financial Abuse, but How?

While a longer life is a good thing, it will also present challenges – and unfortunately, sometimes financial predators.

The prospect of a long, healthy and active life is a wonderful thing to consider. However, one in 10 seniors have suffered financial abuse, according to The Kansas City Star’s article “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse.” The grandson of Brooke Astor spoke at a conference about how his grandmother’s last years were spent living in squalor, as a result of her son and guardian stealing from the estate and cutting the amount of money available for her care. The grandson and his brother sued their father to protect their beloved grandmother, a leading philanthropist and one of New York’s high-profile society figures.

However, elder financial abuse is not limited to the super wealthy or socially prominent. One report noted that one in ten seniors suffers some form of financial abuse.

Why does this happen?

As we age, our brain also ages making us more susceptible to making poor decisions. Even high-functioning retirees with no outward sign of dementia, find it harder to distinguish safe investments from risky ones. The probability of dementia also rises as we age: only 7% of people over 60 have dementia, but nearly 30% of people over age 85 have some degree of dementia.

Here are some suggestions to minimize the likelihood of financial elder abuse:

Communicate. Talk with your loved ones on a regular basis, so you know how their health is and what they are doing. If they don’t want to talk about money, you can start the conversation by sharing something about your own situation. Remind them about safe practices like shredding receipts, bills and account statements. Remind them not to open emails from people they don’t know and not to give their Social Security number or account numbers on the phone or online to people they don’t know.

Stay involved. Know how your loved ones are spending their time and money, by staying involved in their lives. If they are hiring people to do work on or in the house, know who those people are and check their backgrounds. Get to know their home healthcare aides. Review their bank statements to ensure no unusual activity is taking place. If you see that they are starting to decline, offer to take over tasks for them.

Check and balance. Make sure that the correct estate planning documents are in place to allow trusted family members to help, if the need arises, such as power of attorney and medical directive. Divide up responsibilities; consider having one person in charge of bank accounts and another in charge of investment accounts. Trade responsibilities every few months. 

Have a relationship with their professionals. Attend meetings with their elder law attorney and their financial advisor. If there is any hesitation on the part of the professional, push back: any qualified estate planning attorney or financial advisor or CPA should welcome family involvement.

Streamline accounts. Fraud is harder to see, when there’s money in multiple financial institutions with multiple advisors and life insurance policies from several different brokers. Spend the time to do a complete inventory of all accounts. If you can, consolidate accounts.

Reference: The Kansas City Star (Sep. 8, 2018) “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse”

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