Problems with Vulnerable Elderly Adults

We have noted an alarming increase over the years of instances where elderly individuals have been taken advantage of. While there is no one factor that we have noted, there are some common similarities in the cases and we have identified the following high risk factors:

1. Individuals in their 80s or older.

2. No children or the children are not close to their parents.

3. Dementia, Alzheimer’s or short term memory loss.

4. Declining health. As people age, often their physical health as well as their mental health declines and they become dependent upon others.

5. Individuals needing companionship and being befriended by someone who either fills the gap of having no children or having no children who are close by or having children who are not close to their parents.

In cases where large amounts of funds change hands, the claim has usually been that a gift was intended. The amounts are normally unusually large and logic dictates that there is a problem.

There have been remarkably few prosecutions of such cases in our area. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, unless someone complains, the problem goes unnoticed. The more isolated the individual is, the less likely it is that someone will complain.

Second, the victim’s health may make it difficult for him or her to effectively complain.

Third, the defrauded individual is embarrassed and would rather suffer the loss than admit that they have been taken advantage of. Unfortunately, this allows the guilty party to move on to the next victim.

Fourth, even in those cases that are reported and investigated, Beaufort County does not have enough law enforcement personnel who are adequately trained and qualified to investigate such “white collar crimes.” Even in those cases that are prosecuted, often the guilty party negotiates a deal for a lesser sentence.

Fifth, our local Courts are hesitant and slow to react.

We have written similar articles in newsletters to our clients over the years cautioning you about related problems. Unfortunately, we have seen an increase and not a decrease in the number of problem cases.

You should be aware of the potential abuse and protect yourself and your loved ones accordingly. One of the best defenses is to have not only a team of experienced financial and legal advisers, but also trusted and financially experienced friends and family members who can help, if needed. The more people who are involved, the harder it should be for someone to defraud you, assuming you have the proper checks and balances in place.

If someone who is not currently a beneficiary of your will or trust agreement either directly or indirectly suggests either a gift or that you pay for something for them, this should serve as a first alert to potential problems. It is often merely a suggestion to you that something be done. Sometimes this takes the form of the individual sharing their problems with you that can easily be handled by money.

Often the victim may think it is even their own idea, especially when there is no direct request for funds. Similar considerations apply if someone, who is currently one of your beneficiaries, suggests that you leave them significantly more than you are currently leaving to them.

We have also had some problems with elderly clients being sold somewhat sophisticated and high commissioned financial products. If anyone tries to sell you a financial product that sounds too good to be true, then it probably is and you should only purchase the product after receiving independent legal and financial advice.

If there is a commission earned on any financial product that you are going to buy, always make sure that you know how much the total costs and commissions will be and seek independent noncommission based advice. The higher the commission, the more likely it is that self-interest or conflicting interests taint the advice or recommendations given by the person who is recommending the financial product.

Always ask questions in writing. Also, if the response is not in writing, then follow up in writing, acknowledging the response.

We have also seen problems with people soliciting funds from our clients via the mail and telephone asking for somewhat small amounts in exchange for hundreds of thousands or millions of dollars in return. Many of these requests are also internet frauds received by email. If you are offered something that sounds too good to be true, it probably is and you should consult with us or some other trusted advisor or friend.

Unfortunately, we have also experienced problems with children taking advantage of their own parents. We suspect that many older children have not properly saved and are relying upon their parents for their own comfortable retirement. The longer their parents live, the more funds they consume and the less their children will have for their own retirement.

If you believe that you have been taken advantage of, or if you believe that someone is trying to take advantage of you, please do not hesitate to contact our office. We are here to help and to advise you.