Contributed by Chris Jaccard, CFP®, CFA
It is a sad fact of life that often those who are close to us are the ones who have the ability to hurt us the most, even trusted caregivers or family members. Members of the La Jolla community may recall the chilling case of Robert Stella, an elderly man who was tied to his bed, starved, and forced to live in squalor by his ex-wife (NBC, 2014). Elder abuse can happen to any older adult in any community, but the subject of our story today is how our community members in La Jolla, CA may defend themselves and their loved ones from elder abuse.
Elder Abuse: The Silent Perpetrator
Elder abuse takes many forms. In some cases the crime is overt and violent, but most of the time the unsuspecting victim is silently preyed upon for a period of time by a familiar person.
- It can be as surreptitious as the plumber who “cases” the house on routine visits, only to return back through an unsecured window at a time when he knows that the victim is asleep or habitually out of the house. He pillages as much money and jewelry as he can from the places where he knows the victim keeps her valuables, and then leaves.
- Elder abuse can happen over the phone. Let’s say an older adult suffering from dementia receives a solicitation from someone pretending to be a relative, saying that they have an immediate need to wire over some money to get them out of a pinch.
- We’ve even heard of Medicaid facilities partaking of the monies awarded to the facilities’ patients to use for themselves while the patients starve or go malnourished.
- Sadly, elder abuse even happens within families. Ex-spouses, children, siblings, cousins, etc., acting out of desperation, can act as perpetrators of this crime to their own family members.
Americans who are financially abused lose an average of $140,500, according to a Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards study (CFP Board, 2012).
Finally, the Industry Reacts
Over the past few years, several states have enacted regulations to protect vulnerable adults from exploitation and abuse and now the financial services industry is catching up – enacting the first uniform, national standard to protect vulnerable adults.
Advisors must now attempt to document the contact information for someone you trust – your Trusted Contact. If there is a suspicious withdrawal attempted on your account, advisors/custodians can now place a temporary hold on that transaction and further authorize the transaction via your Trusted Contact or notify authorities.
The Trusted Contact
A trusted contact is a new option you may elect on your account, and we encourage all our clients to do so. This person will be called upon in the event that the account custodian or advisor believes that there is financial exploitation going on. The trusted contact may also be called upon to confirm your health status or the identity of other important people who may be involved with your account such as executor, guardian, etc.
It’s important to understand that the trusted contact will not have the ability to view account information or initiate transactions. In fact, we think you should consider having a trusted contact be someone who is not authorized to do so – and more of a neutral third-party.
6 Steps You Can Take to Prevent Being a Victim of Financial Abuse of Older Adults
There are several basic steps you can take to help protect yourself:
- Have your durable power of attorney easily accessible by you and other trusted people. New state laws may require adult protective services to be called which can strip your ability to handle things alone.
- Communicate more financial information with people you trust. If there is abuse, it’s more likely these people will notice and say something.
- Consider opting out of Marketing Solicitations by electing to do so on websites such as https://www.DoNotCall.gov or https://www.beenverified.com/optout.
- Carefully consider who your trusted contact persons (primary and secondary) should be and share that information with your financial advisor or your trusted advisor.
- Use a third party, such as a financial advisor, as a “check and balance”. As financial exploitation may be perpetrated by a family member, you may want to have a third party you can consult with to determine if any behavior is concerning.
- Be aware of situations that encourage desperation. There are certain times when you are more vulnerable, for example, during the holiday season when people are more desperate for money.
What to do If You Suspect Financial Elder Abuse of a Loved One
We interviewed Windward Life Care, a provider of aging life care management services, to get a better sense of what to do if you suspect financial elder abuse of a loved one.
Financial Alternatives: In your experience, when you’ve seen an elderly person be taken advantage of financially, what were the warning signs that his or her caretakers may have missed?
Windward Life: There are several warning signs of financial elder abuse. Often the perpetrator tries to isolate the victim from friends, family, former associates. They do so by creating distrust between the aging person and those they are close to.
Example: An aging mother is encouraged into a dependency on perpetrator. She becomes accustomed to deferring to the perpetrator for decisions that are inconsistent with perpetrator’s role in victim’s life.
Example: “I need to ask Paul before I decide to go on vacation”, or “Paul says I need to see a new attorney and go over some estate planning options that my old one may not have had me consider.”
You should also pay attention when you see someone close to the aging person engaging in behavior that is beyond his or her means, such as buying a new car or going on a luxury vacation. Any secretive, elusive behavior is suspect.
It’s fairly common to see the perpetrator interjecting him or herself into financial matters that are not his responsibility. For example, you may find checks written for work that has not been authorized.
Financial Alternatives: How do you recommend caregivers begin the conversation with an aging person if they suspect risk of financial abuse?
Windward Life: That’s a good question. Sometimes this can be a touchy subject to initiate conversation about. You’ve got to be very emotionally aware when entering into these conversations.
Use Distancing Anecdotes
The best thing to do is start off the conversation with a story about how someone else has been taken advantage of.
Example: You will have greater success if you generalize the risk. “This could happen to anyone. Have you ever experienced or felt you were at risk for something like this happening, Mom?”
Keep Communication Positive
Elder abuse is not a subject to take lightly but the conversation generally goes better the more positive you keep the dialogue. Here are some pointers.
- Remind Mom that she took care of you for many years. Now it’s your turn to offer some assistance. You consider it an honor to be able to reciprocate.
- Show your sensitivity by pointing out that con artists are professionals at fooling everyone and there is no shame. Recognize that embarrassment about possibly being victimized is more horrifying to the elder than the actual loss of money.
- For the same reason, don’t point out past failings. Stay focused on the specific concern in a caring, helpful, non-judgmental way. Older people are afraid of their own vulnerability and don’t want their family to see them declining. Having an open-door policy of good, non-accusatory communication is the best plan.
- Approach the dialogue from a calm, information gathering perspective. Use facts, not accusations. Ask Dad to review bank accounts with you to identify discrepancies. Do this in a relaxed environment with no time constraints. The process will be upsetting as it is; so try to minimize emotional distress as much as possible.
Realize That Third Party Resources May Be Necessary
As much as you may want to solve the problem yourself, realize that some issues are too deeply entrenched to resolve without the help of a professional.
For example, it is often a family member who lives in the home who preys on the elder. This is the most difficult abuse to stop because codependency is not a quick fix. A licensed mental health professional may be needed.
If abuse is suspected, Dad may be embarrassed and double down to keep the information from being revealed to the family. The family may be able to persuade him to speak with a professional financial advisor.
Example: “I can see you are worried about something Dad, would it help you to talk with Sally (the financial advisor) to help sort this out?”
This approach may work because Dad may feel more comfortable talking with a third party who will not reveal the abuse to the family.
Financial Alternatives: If someone were in the market for a caregiver for their aging relative, how can they reduce the risk of working with someone who may take advantage of them financially?
Windward Life: The good news is that there are several things you can do and by exercising proper diligence you can reduce many of the risks of an aging relative being taken advantage of financially.
For starters, hire a certified care manager who is a member of the national Aging Life Care Association. The Aging Life Care® Manager will only hire thoroughly screened caregivers. In general, you should only do business with caregivers that follow the State requirements on background checks and training. State regulations vary by state, of course. There are several such licensed providers who can help you prevent elder abuse in La Jolla, CA.
In our organization we advocate for aging people to utilize trackable expenses through a True Link card and have only limited cash on hand. We also suggest that bill paying responsibilities be assigned to a fiduciary or other responsible family member. These individuals should conduct regular monitoring to assure the highest physical/mental health and awareness.
Summary on Elder Abuse in La Jolla, CA
Elder abuse in La Jolla, CA doesn’t have to be a fact of life. With the proper awareness and strategies, you can put mechanisms in place to prevent it, help your loved ones who are at risk, facilitate open communication, and if by ill fortune this does befall your loved one you can take actions to resolve the situation. In all cases, calling on the proper resources is key. For more information about how to protect your loved ones from financial elder abuse in La Jolla, CA please get in touch with us.
Summers, Dave. (30 May, 2014). Elder Abuse Suspect Dons Disguise to Get Close to Victim. NBC Universal Media; NBC 7. Retrieved from https://www.nbcsandiego.com/news/local/La-Jolla-Elder-Abuse-Robert-Stella-Victoria-Turner-Disguise-Visit-261292301.html
Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards. (August 2012). Senior Financial Exploitation Study. Retrieved from https://www.cfp.net/docs/news-events—supporting-documents/senior-americans-financial-exploitation-survey.pdf?sfvrsn=0