Vail Daily column: Financial elder abuse is a problem | VailDaily.com

Vail Daily column: Financial elder abuse is a problem

Judson Haims
My View

Living in the Colorado mountains is good. From Frisco to the Vail Valley and the Roaring Fork Valley to Aspen, we are graced with being surrounded by good people: people of integrity and compassion. This is not the case everywhere though.

Last week, my Vail Daily article ("How to start helping your aging parents") has led to a number of calls and emails from both people looking for guidance and from people sharing their personal stories.

Financial elder abuse is a prolific problem. According to a report from MetLife's Mature Market Institute, it is most often perpetrated by family members and caregivers. However, accountants, bookkeepers, contractors, salesmen, attorneys, insurance agents, clergy, and friends are too often involved.

I recently had a phone conference with several Visiting Angels franchisees in metropolitan areas throughout the country. Our conversation revolved about rising concerns of financial exploitation amongst our aging loved ones. I was rather dismayed to hear the prevalence of this and thought that I'd share with the Vail Daily readers some information that may be helpful.

This is virtually an epidemic problem. Detecting the issue demands the help of family and friends.

Warning signs

Recommended Stories For You

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, a Washington, D.C.-based watchdog association, offers some clues to when elderly financial abuse might be occurring, including:

• Bills are left unpaid and notices of eviction or discontinued utilities arrive.

• Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts or transfers between accounts.

• Bank statements stop coming.

• Care is not commensurate with the size of the estate.

• Belongings or property goes missing.

• Suspicious signatures appear on checks or other documents.

• The elder or the caregiver gives implausible explanations about financial matters.

While difficult to notice unless you have access to financial records, withdrawals of large amounts of money, checks made out to cash, or low bank balances may be indicators of financial abuse. Additionally, if you notice an increase of additional mail and credit offers at your loved one's home, there may be reason for concern.

What to do

Education and collaboration are the beginning steps to successfully assisting a loved one from being taken advantage of. Sitting by the wayside when you suspect an opportunity exists for your loved one to be taken advantage of is not the answer.

Suspecting and detecting financial abuse can be difficult. However, there are a number of resources that assist. Many financial institutions offer text alerts that can warn of unusual withdrawals or financial activity. Some financial institutions now allow an account holder to designate an emergency contact for the bank to call if there is a health or security concern.

If you suspect an issue of financial abuse exists and are apprehensive to get directly involved, you can report the concern to your local Adult Protective Services agency or the state attorney general's office. Both can initiate an examination and keep your involvement confidential.

For states that have probate courts, a concerned person can request the court to intervene. This is especially helpful in cases where someone in the family is suspected of misusing a power of attorney or their role as guardian or conservator.

Trusts

Developing a trust may be an option for the prevention of financial misuse. Trusts are created by a grantor – an individual who conveys or transfers ownership of property and/or assets. The grantor develops rules that define how the trust is to operate, what it is to do, and how and when to do it.

Trusts have appointed managers called trustees. While the trustee is frequently the person who established the trust (the grantor), it is not uncommon for an outside third party to be designated. Sometimes, a power of attorney is designated to be responsible for making financial decisions. However, not always is the trustee and power of attorney the same person.

Trusts can be complicated and there are many types of trusts; living trusts, charitable trusts, life insurance trusts, spendthrift trust, and many others. If you want to learn more about trusts as a means of protecting your loved one from potential harm, contact a trust attorney. Should you want a recommendation, call our Visiting Angels office.

As our elder loved ones age, discussing finances amongst a family can be highly emotional. Involving expertise outside of the family is often a way to help mitigate misunderstandings and ensure that all parties involved are heard, understood, and have an opportunity to Identify and clarify concerns.

Be proactive. Open discussions prevent misunderstandings.

Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Eagle County. For more information, go to http://www.visiting angels.com/comtns or call 970-328-5526.