Financial exploitation of the elderly is a growing problem. But there are steps you can take to recognize and avoid financial exploitation. As we age, it is inevitable that we all will encounter health or aging challenges that can make us more vulnerable to financial exploitation. This exploitation can be by strangers or family. Both are equally wrong. It is not ok for anyone, even your family to take advantage of you financially. You have a right to make your own financial decisions. Here are some simple steps to avoid financial exploitation.
1. Do Not Add Anyone to Your Bank Account Unless Absolutely Necessary.
With automatic bill pay and online banking, it is even less likely that you will need to add someone to your bank account to assist you with paying bills. Ask your banker to help you set up automatic payments if you don’t know how to do this. If you must add someone to your bank account, be forewarned that when you add someone to your bank account as a joint account holder, he or she can remove all the money in the account without your permission. Additionally, your Will does not control where money in a joint bank account with rights of survivorship goes when you die.
2. Do Background Searches on Caregivers.
If you hire a caregiver or home health aide, use only reputable agencies and make sure the agency does background checks on all staff. Don’t hire a “friend of a friend.” Beware of new friends or caregivers who try to ingratiate themselves into your life by offering to help you out in your home or drive you places. Watch for red flags and warning signs. A red flag of potential exploitation is when a new friend or caregiver starts badmouthing your existing family and friends. Financial exploiters will often tell you your family is stealing from you or trying to put you in a nursing home in order to make you paranoid, isolate you from people who could help you, and make you completely dependent on the exploiter for food and healthcare. Ask for help from your attorney, a medical professional or a neutral party if you find yourself in this situation!
3. Stay in touch with old friends and relatives.
Don’t allow anyone, even a current spouse, to screen your calls or isolate you from old friends, relatives, and children from prior marriages. Cutting you off from your family and social network is a common tactic by abusers so you have no one else to turn to for help.
4. Stay Connected to Your Religious Community and Your Neighbors.
Continue to be active in your church, synagogue, or mosque. Stay in touch by email, Skype, or phone if you can’t attend meetings. Keep your religious organization informed about your health and daily activities so there is someone out there who will notice a change in your daily routine and check in on you. Speak to your neighbors and when possible, stay connected with neighborhood organizations.
5. Do Not Become Dependent on Only One Person for Care
Hire professional caregivers when possible. If you can’t afford a professional caregiver, split your care between several family members to avoid both caregiver burnout and feeling emotionally indebted to a single caregiver. It should go without saying but, don’t get married so you will have someone to take care of you! Be cautious about marriages later in life to someone younger than you. Remember, the aging process and illness can change the balance of power within your marriage. If you are in a marriage with someone you don’t trust but think you can “manage” because you are active and healthy, realize that your spouse will have the upper hand when you become incapacitated due to normal aging or an acute illness. Only marry someone you trust. Utilize prenuptial agreements and estate plans to ensure there can be no financial gain through undue influence later in life if you become incapacitated and vulnerable.
6. Create an Estate Plan with an Attorney You Trust.
Plan ahead to protect your assets. Create your estate plan and don’t forget to include your disability legal documents. Manage family expectations by sharing your estate plan with family and friends so there will not be any surprises when you are no longer here. This helps avoid tug-of-wars over your money both before and after you are gone. If you are disinheriting a family member, include the reasons in your Will or Trust so it is clear that the disinheritance was your intent and not the result of undue influence by another family member. If you anticipate entering into a second or subsequent marriage, create an estate plan to protect the inheritance of children from your prior marriage so a struggle for your assets doesn’t ensue later between your children and new spouse. Make plans in your estate documents so that important family heirlooms from a prior marriage stay in the prior family when you are gone. Select only trusted family members or friends as your financial and healthcare proxy. Don’t automatically choose the oldest child if you think a younger child is more responsible. Choose the best person for the job!
7. Get Help if You Need It.
These are only some of the steps you can take to protect yourself as you age. Always seek help from family, friends, your religious community, medical professionals or governmental agencies if you find yourself in a situation where you feel pressured to give someone your money! Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help.
If you are would like more information about protecting yourself or a family member from financial exploitation, contact us at 704-887-5242 to schedule a strategy session with Nancy.
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