How Do We Protect Seniors From Abuse?

Earlier this year, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau analyzed more than 180,000 Suspicious Activity Reports (SARs) submitted by financial institutions to FinCEN, the federal government watchdog agency, from 2013 through 2017. The CFPB found that “financial exploitation of older adults by scammers, family members, caregivers and others is widespread in the United States.”

ABC 15 Phoenix’s recent online report, “Protecting seniors from financial predators,” says the trend is not surprising to many estate planning and elder law attorneys. Unfortunately, they hear from many families who are seeing elderly loved ones being taken advantage of financially.

Families reach out to these attorneys who specialize in senior issues, because they’re concerned that a grandparent or parent is being scammed.

For example, there are hundreds of cases listed on the Arizona Adult Protective Services Registry. The registry lists the names of suspects and circumstances of substantiated or uncontested claims of the exploitation and abuse of vulnerable adults.

Nearly all of these cases involve people the victims should have been able to trust, such as a caregiver or someone with power of attorney. The cases also include forging checks, using credit cards and selling a victim’s home and pocketing the proceeds.

Experts think the problem will only get worse as the population ages. Families are cautioned to pay extra attention after a major life change, like a medical diagnosis or the death of a spouse. People who have suffered a loss or a frightening life event are lonely. When someone enters their life, they’re just excited to have someone to talk to.

Warning signs include a change in behavior. That sometimes shows as a new person is entering their life and is actively isolating them, or suddenly, they’re not sharing information with you as before.  There may also be items that go missing around their house. These thefts often begin with small loans that aren’t paid back, or money for helping around the house. However, this eventually increases as time passes, and the exploiter gets braver.

In Arizona, the State Department of Adult Protective Services investigates elder financial abuse complaints, but these cases are rarely criminally prosecuted. Families frequently have to use the courts to undo damage and prevent future problems, especially if the family member is in denial about being exploited.

Family members can petition the court for conservatorship, guardianship or ask that a guardian ad litem be assigned to the senior—a court-appointed attorney that acts only on the victim’s behalf.

Reference: ABC 15 Phoenix (June 4, 2019) “Protecting seniors from financial predators”

‘Someday’ Is Sooner than You Think

The cause for sleepless nights for many, now comes from worrying about aging parents. As parents age, it becomes more important to talk with them about a number of “someday” issues, advises Kanawha Metro in the article “Preparing for someday.” As their lives move into the elder years, your discussions will need to address housing, finances and end-of-life wishes.

Where do your parents want to spend their later years? It may be that they want to move to an active retirement community not far from where they live now, or they may want a complete change of scenery, perhaps in a warmer climate.

One family made arrangements for their mother to take a tour of a nearby senior-living community, after their father passed. By showing their mother the senior-living community, they made an unknown, slightly intimidating thing into a familiar and attractive possibility. Because she saw the facility with no pressure, just a tour and lunch, she knew what kind of options it presented. The building was clean and pretty, and the staff was friendly. Therefore, it was a positive experience. She was able to picture herself living there.

Money becomes an issue, as parents age. If the person who always handled the family finances passes away, often the surviving spouse is left trying to figure out what has been done for the last five decades. A professional can help, especially if they have had a long-standing relationship.

However, when illness or an injury takes the surviving spouse out of the picture, even for a little while, things can get out of control fast. It only takes a few weeks of not being able to write checks or manage finances, to demonstrate the wisdom of having children or a trusted person named with a power of attorney to be able to pay bills and manage the household.

As parents age and their health becomes fragile, they need help with doctor appointments. Having a child or trusted adult go with them to speak up on their behalf, or explain any confusing matters, is very important.

Having an estate plan in place is another part of the business of aging that needs to be accomplished. It may be helpful to go with your parents to meet with an estate planning attorney to create documents that include a last will and testament, durable power of attorney and advanced health care directive. Without these documents, executing their estate or helping them if they become incapacitated will be more complex, and more costly.

Eliminate a scavenger hunt by making sure that at least two siblings know where the originals of these documents are.

One of the more difficult conversations has to do with end-of-life and funeral arrangements. Where do your parents want to be buried, or do they want to be cremated? What should be done with their remains?

What do they want to be done with their personal belongings? Are there certain items that they want to be given to certain members of the family, or other people they care for? One family used masking tape and a marker to write the names of the people they wanted to receive certain items.

Finally, what do they want to happen to their pets? If there is a family member who says they will take their parent’s pet, can that person be trusted to follow through? There needs to be a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C so that the beloved pet can be assured a long and comfortable life after their owner has passed.

Yes, these are difficult conversations. However, not having them can lead to far more difficult issues. Knowing what your loved ones wish to happen, and making it enforceable with an estate plan, provides everyone in the family with peace of mind.

Reference: Kanawha Metro (May 29, 2019) “Preparing for someday”

Which States Roll Out the Red Carpet for Seniors

Some states are far more welcoming to seniors than other states. If you are thinking about relocating when you retire, you need to know which places provide services and amenities and address the issues that can make your life easier. Become aware of things that will impact your well-being as you age, so you can determine which states roll out the carpet for seniors.

Questions You Should Ask Before Deciding Where to Move

Many people choose a place to retire, because they always wanted to live in that state or area. While that is a valid reason, you should dig a little deeper to make sure you will be happy and comfortable, if you move there. Some of the topics to explore before taking the plunge include:

  • Is public transportation available? Find out if it is accessible, in case you have or develop mobility issues. See if it is affordable, and whether it serves the places in town where you will want to go.
  • Check out the public parks and walking trails. Walking is an excellent form of exercise and fresh air. Getting out of the house can prevent social isolation.
  • Are there social opportunities for older adults? Explore the number of senior centers and their activities. “Age-friendly” communities often host senior activities through the local government, public library or parks and recreation department.
  • How convenient is the medical care? You do not want to have to drive 30 miles each way to see a good doctor or 100 miles for a trauma hospital.
  • Check out the housing costs. You might have wanted to live in San Jose, California ever since you first heard the song, but as one of the most expensive places in America to live, you might not be able to afford housing there.
  • What are your employment prospects? Many older adults want or need to work part-time. Is the local community friendly toward mature workers?

States That Invest in Senior Life Issues

If a state is a member of the AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities, it will address issues that are relevant to the well-being of mature residents. These communities work on the social, economic and environmental factors that can impact your safety, comfort and health.

The network does not limit membership to states. Towns, cities, and counties are part of the network to provide resources that improve the quality of life for seniors. Communities in the network might not be as age-friendly as they would like to be, but they are pushing forward with initiatives to improve things for their older residents.

The network currently has four states (Florida, Massachusetts, Colorado and New York) and 368 communities across the country as members. These areas have made a commitment to make life better for their seniors and people of all ages. Network members evaluate their local needs and create action plans to address those needs.

Members of the network tackle such issues as:

  • How welcoming and friendly the area is to older adults,
  • Safe bike paths, lanes and trails,
  • Compliant sidewalks, curbs, pedestrian walkways and streets,
  • Economic opportunities for seniors to own businesses or get jobs,
  • Affordable housing, including non-traditional “tiny” houses,
  • Public health services,
  • Public places and outdoor spaces,
  • Social activities, and
  • Transportation.

When it comes to retirement, look before you leap!

References:

AARP. “What You Need to Know About Age-Friendly States.” (accessed May 22, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/disrupt-aging/stories/info-2019/age-friendly-states.html

AARP. “AARP Network of Age-Friendly States and Communities.” (accessed May 23, 2019) https://www.aarp.org/livable-communities/network-age-friendly-communities/