Recognize areas of vulnerability and protect yourself
The trial over media mogul Sumner Redstone’s mental competence raises questions regarding financial exploitation and the issue of undue influence. Reports of financial abuse of older adults have increased dramatically over the past decade and this often leads to other forms of elder abuse. While the legal battles in the Redstone case rage on, consider this a valuable lesson. Regardless of your income or financial status, it is important to develop a comprehensive estate plan to ensure that your estate is divided according to your instructions and your health care wishes are carried out. Most importantly, this should be done while you are of sound body and mind.
Family members and trusted others
Unfortunately, situations of financial exploitation frequently involve individuals who are close to the elder adult, including family members, caretakers, friends, clergy, doctors or neighbors. Those people that were once considered part of your “inner circle” of trustworthy confidants may lose their loyalty due to personal circumstances or may simply take advantage of your situation. As older adults increasingly need more assistance with activities and daily living, they become more vulnerable to financial abuse. In the event of cognitive impairment, it is essential to have a designated individual to act on your behalf according to your wishes.
Common methods of exploitation
Opportunities for financial exploitation abound for anyone who has a close relationship with someone and that person is someone with whom they trust.
- Shared bank accounts are quite common and these allow either account holder to access funds. If there is diminished cognitive function for one of you, it presents the opportunity for the other account owner to take advantage of the diminished capacity, taking the money without the other’s knowledge or consent.
- Power of attorney gives another individual the authority to act on your behalf in specified circumstances or all legal or financial matters. When an elder adult designates another person to handle their finances, that person can abuse that power and use it to their own benefit, taking the elder’s money for their own purposes.
- In-home care providers frequently have access to personal information and belongings. Stolen checks and ATM cards enable them to make withdrawals from bank accounts. Inaccurately reporting expenses paid on errands, falsifying time sheets and not fulfilling the duties and responsibilities they are hired to provide are common scenarios.
- Withholding needed medical care in order to keep the elder’s financial assets available can result in physical or mental decline, which further increases the risk of financial exploitation.
Addressing exploitation: steps to take
In a case of financial abuse, the following steps can be taken to address the situation: close joint bank accounts as well as any checking accounts that may have been compromised; revoke the power of attorney; appoint a responsible individual or an agency to manage finances; and consult an experienced legal professional concerning how to best protect yourself going forward.
Preventing against financial exploitation begins with a skilled Maryland estate planning attorney
Elder abuse through financial exploitation can be devastating and emotionally scarring. The Maryland estate planning specialists at Altman & Associates share over 40 years of experience and work side-by-side with you to develop an estate plan that protects your best interests. As the premier estate planning firm in Maryland, Washington D.C, and Northern Virginia, we have convenient office locations in Columbia and Rockville. Contact us by phone at (301) 468-3220 or online to schedule a consultation.