Although people are living longer, they are not necessarily living healthier. As time goes on, because of illness, disability or cognitive impairments, there may be an increased need to rely and depend on others for health care and financial management. This dependency can make seniors susceptible to financial abuse. Savings, investments and personal belongings accumulated over decades, also often make seniors attractive targets for predators, whether the predator is a fraudulent solicitor, or a care provider who sees an opportunity to be paid more than an hourly wage.
When we’re considering measures to protect our precious elderly, transparency provides the strongest abuse protection. If others, such as family members, are involved with the senior’s finances, either possible predators will see that no opportunity exists to take advantage of the senior, or if a senior has already been targeted, the family members and/or professionals can step in to keep any fraud from going too far. Here are some steps seniors, or their loved ones, can take to prevent financial abuse.
1. Arrange for account oversight
Make sure that someone close to the senior has access to his or her accounts to be able to see if anything unusual is going on. For instance, large checks being made out or larger-than-usual cash withdrawals from ATMs are red flags. The oversight can be through copies of monthly statements or online access to accounts.
2. Create joint accounts
A joint account with someone gives them oversight as well as the ability to write checks, make investment decisions and take steps, if necessary, to protect the funds in the account. It also avoids probate, making the transition somewhat easier at the owner’s death. However, make sure you only add the name of someone you really trust to the account because it can also be an avenue for financial abuse if the joint owner becomes the perpetrator.
3. Use a Revocable Trust
Revocable Trusts can be useful for a number of reasons. They include all of the benefits of joint accounts, with few of the drawbacks. Your Revocable Trust gives, someone you trust, access to your accounts and the ability to step in seamlessly if you become disabled. Unlike a joint account, it does not give the Trustee any ownership interest in the account. If, for instance, you had four children but named one as a co-owner of your joint accounts, at your death she would have the legal right to keep the funds rather than share them with her siblings. That would not be the case with a Revocable Trust.
4. Visit often
Nothing prevents financial abuse or stops it in its tracks better than frequent visits by loved ones. Either the potential perpetrator will see that he can’t isolate the senior and take advantage of the person, or, family members or friends will notice the abuse before it goes too far.
5. Get help paying bills
If someone helps you pay your bills, they will help you make sure that you’re not letting anything slip through cracks or paying something that shouldn’t be paid. They will be able to help you sort through your mail and determine what is important and what is not.
6. Use a limited credit card
Credit cards are now available that allow another person to monitor the activity of the cardholder and to limit both the amount he spends and where he can spend it.
7. Sign up for do not call registry
It is quite easy to register your telephone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry either online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888.382.1222. While this may not stop someone intent on defrauding a senior, it should help reduce calls from salespeople.
8. Sign up for Nomorobo
You can sign up for Nomorobo to block robo calls. Unfortunately, it does not work with all telephone providers, including Verizon.
9. Opt out of mail solicitations
At www.dmachoice.org, the Direct Marketing Association permits you to limit the number of catalogs, credit card offers and other direct mail pieces you or a loved one receives. You may well ask why the Direct Marketing Association does this. The answer is that they don’t want to waste their print and mail costs sending to consumers who have no interest in the product being marketed.
10. Consult with an Elder Law attorney
An elder law attorney can help set up a Revocable Trust and Durable Power of Attorney to assist with financial management, advise on the best protective steps to take in each situation and provide additional oversight to discourage financial abuse.
While there’s no foolproof measure you can take that will both prevent financial fraud and leave you or your loved one with at least some independence and control over his or her finances, the steps described above can make the world a safer financial place. Just remember what was said at the beginning: isolation is a breeding ground for financial abuse (as well as depression and other ills). Social involvement is the best protection.
Monet Binder, Esq., serves Brooklyn, Queens, and Long Island, dedicated to protecting families, their legacies, and values. All halachic documents are approved by the Bais Havaad Halacha Center in Lakewood, under the direction of Rabbi Dovid Grossman and the guidance of Harav Shmuel Kaminetsky, shlita, as well as other leading halachic authorities. To learn more about how a power of attorney can help you, you can send her an email at [email protected] or call 718-514-7575.
The information in this article is intended solely for your information. It does not constitute legal advice, and it should not be relied on without a discussion of your specific situation with an attorney.