Estate planning attorneys are in a unique position to protect their clients from financial elder abuse.
Like those suffering other kinds of abuse, elders who are being financially victimized are not likely to call attention to the abuse or to be proactive in seeking help. In fact, they may not even realize they are being abused. However, because of the work we do, we get glimpses into areas of our clients’ lives that are often hidden even from those closest to them.
Signs of Abuse
Would you recognize it if your client were a victim of financial abuse? Here are some warning signs, which may (but not necessarily do) indicate possible financial abuse:
- An elderly client (defined as someone age 65 or older) who is accompanied by a friend, relative or caregiver who seems to influence or control the client’s transactions, while the client remains passive
- Changes in an elderly client’s financial account beneficiaries
- Accounts with new authorized signers or joint account holders
- A caregiver offering care in exchange for access to bank accounts or other assets
- A sudden change in an elderly client’s financial status or financial account activity
- Changes to property titles
- New financial arrangements an elderly client seems confused about or unable to explain
- A diminishment in an elderly client’s level of personal care or hygiene, particularly when her financial means would suggest a higher standard of care
Who Are the Abusers?
Financial abuse makes up a significant proportion of all the elder abuse cases reported each year. In a 2004 National Center on Elder Abuse Study, 15 percent of elder abuse cases involved financial exploitation. And while we’d like to think financial abuse of the elderly is committed by sleazy telemarketers or door-to-door salesmen, 66 percent of abusers are family members of the elder.
There are plenty of legitimate reasons for elders to transfer their assets, but remember that as an estate planning attorney, you’re in an excellent position to protect clients from illegitimate transactions. Be alert to transactions involving your elderly clients and make sure they understand what they are doing and that they are acting of their own free will. Pay attention to your instincts.
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M. (Tax)
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555