Editor's note: This Shark believes that as well intended as this article is, it would have little effect in a corrupt environment. "Criminal Financial Enterprises" such as the Probate Court of Cook County and the Nursing Home Cartel literally walk over any protest by loving family members. As long as the Kawamotos, Solos of the world and their clones control the court system this travesty against the disabled, dying and aged will continue. Lucius Verenus, Schoolmaster, ProbateShark.com
Protect older loved ones from theft
Adult children who worry their parents may be financially exploited by a relative, caregiver or friend can often spot signs when the family gets together for the December holidays. While elder fraud is often committed by relatives of the victim, relatives are also the ones most likely to come to the rescue, suggests Jim Rothrock, commissioner of the Dept. of Aging and Rehabilitative Services.
Anne See, a public benefits and elder law paralegal at Blue Ridge Legal Services, says her case load of late bears that out.
Typical financial exploitation cases
Financial exploitation of older adults can involve theft in many forms: income, cash, accounts, assets, or property, See says.
A most common situation See encounters is the misuse of an older person's money by someone who's living with them.
"They have access," she explained. "They're on the bank account. But they use it for themselves rather than the family member."
One of her current cases involves a woman in an assisted living facility whose daughter is taking her mother's income.
"It's sad. The daughter's words to me were, 'My mother never took care of me when I was little, and I need to take care of my child, so I'm going to use the money," See said.
She also finds many older people signing over their homes to children who promise to care for them, and then don't.
Some seniors come to her wanting to change their power of attorney because they've discovered it's being misused. The power of attorney to make our medical or financial decisions when we're no longer capable is a powerful instrument. You must be fully competent to give someone that power, and fully competent to change it, See says.
Unfortunately, the exploitation often occurs when the person has grown less capable. In that case, Blue Ridge Legal Services tries to help concerned family members petition the court to become their loved one's guardian and conservator.
No money for public guardianship
When there's no family member to play that role, See admits she doesn't even try to get seniors on the state's list for a public guardianship, because "I just know there's no money."
Almost 1,000 people are on a waiting list for public guardianship in Virginia, according to the paralegal, with only 10 slots funded for Winchester, Harrisonburg and Staunton cities, Rockingham, Augusta, Page, Warren, Shenandoah, Frederick and Clarke counties.
The best prevention for these situations is long-range planning, DARS' Rothrock counsels, but it doesn't happen nearly enough. That's where caring family come in, by noticing memory changes or impairments that could make your loved one vulnerable, he said.
What to look for
Unopened bills or confusion over the balance of a checking or savings account could be an indication of vulnerability. "If you see such changes, raise your concerns gently," Rothrock said.
Other signs include:
A transfer of property or savings
Excessive payment for care and or other services
A change in a payee, power of attorney or will
A caregiver who's overly frugal
Unusual or new people living in the household
The older adult is kept isolated
The signature on the check doesn't resemble their signature
You loved one doesn't know what happened to the money
Their social Security benefit isn't deposited into the proper account
They report signing papers but don't know what they signed.
What to do?
All too often, the situations aren't reported because the older person feels embarrassed or depends on the person who's stealing from them. One study estimates older Americans lost about $2.9 billion to financial exploitation in 2010, according to DARS.
Adult children who suspect financial exploitation can take steps to stop it, however.
Parents are often reluctant to discuss finances with their children, so it may be helpful to get a trusted clergy or financial or legal representative to join the conversation.
Suspected financial exploitation can be reported to your local Adult Protective Services unit —(540) 949-7141 — or call the toll-free, 24-hour hotline: (888) 832-3858. Reports can be made anonymously to either one.
Exploiting an older person financially is stealing, See adds, so law enforcement can also be contacted.
Blue Ridge Legal Services can be reached at 540-433-1830.