Making Tough Choices to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse

Preparation is critical to prevent financial exploitation of elderly community members. Our team of elder law estate planning attorneys frequently discuss how legal documents can be crafted and arrangements made to provide trusted family members with access to financial details of a senior’s life to spot exploitation early. Similarly, by placing assets in trust with oversight from professional trustees, it becomes far harder (often impossible) for scammers to take control of certain parts of an estate.

But, it is important to point out that proper planning does not take away all difficult choices that comes with aging relatives. Many adult children will still be forced to make tough choices on behalf of their loved one. That is particularly true when the senior suffers from progressive cognitive conditions like Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia.

When to Take the Reins for a Parent?
Yesterday a Forbes article offers an example of the tough decisions many children have to make when their parents begin to suffer the effects of their age. The family in this case included two adult sons who were concerned about their father. To start with, they did the right thing by signing a durable power of attorney and tracking their father’s finances. Though, they transferred title of the senior’s home into one of the son’s name; this may not have been as prudent a move as using a trust to protect the home.

Eventually, the sons were alarmed when two younger people went to their father’s door and offered to make repairs on his home–this is a common approach by con artists. After doing some repair work, amazingly, the couple ended up moving into the senior’s home. Not long after, large withdrawals popped up in the senior’s bank account.
But Because the adult children were privy to their father’s actions, they were able to identify the problem early on. But they were still left tough choices. Their father remained combative about the situation, refusing the prevent the pair form living in his house, and re-buffing attempts by his sons to limit his access to his finances.

What did they need to do to handle the situation?

If their father continued to act against his own best interests, including funneling thousands of dollars to these two strangers, should the children have a judge declare the senior incompetent and take complete control of his affairs? Would it be better to leave him alone and let him act upon his own wishes? How would their actions affect their long-term relationship with their father? Does the situation place their father at risk of physical and mental harm beyond finances?

It is impossible to give direct answers to these and many other questions, because they must be made by individual families on a case by case basis. But, regardless, it is important for all local families to consider these issues in case they come up in their case.

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