The Importance of Vetting Your Elder Law Attorney or Trustee

Recently, in Ocean County, New Jersey, a well known elder law attorney was arrested and charged with stealing money from his clients. The attorney, considered an older adult himself, is charged with stealing over 1.2 million dollars over the course of five years from a number of elderly clients he served. A court order allowed officials to freeze the firm’s numerous bank accounts, seize billings records, and a number of other records implicating his crimes.

This attorney had a particular target on the elder population, however, he did not discriminate who he took money from when it came to clients. Notably, the attorney stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from clients suffering from dementia, clients who had elected him power of attorney (or so he had claimed) which allowed him to write checks from their accounts, depositing annuities proceeds into his account instead of the client, and misfiling legal fees. His behavior did not go unnoticed by some family members of clients, and when confronted, he claimed there were administrators errors and would issue repayments.

Important Questions to Ask Your Elder Law Attorney

  • What are your qualifications for elder law care? Do you have experience in not only elder law, but estate planning and drafting, asset protection?
  • How will your office accomodate my needs? Will there be more than one attorney working with me and my estate or is it your sole effort? Who can I call if you are not available?
  • What accreditations do you have for elder law administration?
  • Do you have experience dealing with elder law and government benefits?

Signs of Financial Abuse

Elder abuse is common in a number of forms, but most relevant in the situation of attorneys and clients, is financial abuse of an elderly client. Elderly clients may be embarrassed or feel pressure from the attorney to make a decision or pay a fee quoted by an attorney if they feel that person is trusted. As a family member, it is important to watch for the signs of financial abuse, such as: a sudden change in behavior by the adult, especially after a meeting or conversation with the attorney, changes to the adult’s will which appoints a new power of attorney or changes inheritance without reason. Lastly, a sure giveaway tends to be miscellaneous withdrawals that you can be certain the elder adult would not and did not make. Those individuals targeting elder adults find very creative ways to move their money, so be cautious of any suspicious behavior.

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