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Taking Advantage of Grandma and Grandpa: The Growing Trend


As I sit here at my desk writing this article, I cannot for the life of me find any semblance of peace about this topic.  I just can’t.  Every week in our office we receive calls from family members, county workers, Adult Protective Services … you name it!  And the story is the same:  My mom or my dad is being abused and exploited by _____.  Typically, the exploitation is financial.  And the evidence of the explotation is not apparent to the outside world until it usually too late.  I wish I was making this up, but I’m not.  Sadly.

The stats are worrisome.  Approximately 1 in 10 Americans aged 60+ have experience some form of elder abuse with estimates ranging upwards of 5 million seniors abused each year.  One study estimates only 1 in 14 cases of abuse are reported.  Roughly 60% of those abusers (those doing wrong) are a family member.  Okay, I have to stop.  I can’t go on right now.  The data shows that 3 out of 5 times when a person over the age of 60 is abused, it is by a family member.  I typically see children and grandchildren being the culprits.  And no, it is not always drug related.  Mom or Dad has a money coming in and it is easy for a family member or neighbor or the postman to say, “Hey, I can move in and take care of you.  It’s best for you.”

Then, it starts off innocently with the abuser taking a little stuff like buying themselves lunch or putting gas in their cars on your dime!  But wait, there is more.  Then suddenly debts are being paid off, a new car in the driveway, and next you know is there isn’t enough money to support you so off to a nursing home you go.  This is where my firm usually gets the call.  An elderly person is placed in a nursing home and the family member taking care of them doesn’t pay the bill.  That’s usually because the money is being used for their own personal enjoyment.

What really makes this matter worse is that you’ve worked your whole life so you won’t have to live in poverty when you retire.  Whatever you have left saved up is gone and your house sold or in foreclosure, you are left without any options.  Usually, there is little to no recovery of the stolen funds and quite frankly, the police and prosecutors are not anxious to take on these cases.  It’s hard to prove guilt especially when the abused is suffering from memory loss or worse, dementia.

So, there is a problem.  A big problem.  What can you do?  The first step is you can’t avoid people and you have to trust someone.  Proper estate planning with third party oversight is a good start.  Irrevocable trusts are an excellent option plus you can use those to qualify for Medicaid and keep your house for your family when you are gone.  There are so many options to choose and it’s confusing.  Unless you have years of experience dealing with the exploitation of elders, I don’t see how an attorney or company can properly setup an estate plan to avoid the abuse.

Luckily for you, I’ve learned a few tricks along the way.  The first thing an abuser will do is get you to sign a Power of Attorney.  STOP!  Not everyone is going to abuse their loved ones and not every power of attorney is bad.  I just think that when it comes to money, there should be a third party oversight to your money and assets.  That’s really where the good ideas begin is removing the ability for a person to take advantage of you and your assets.

The second thing to do is to always have full access to everything and require the person taking care of your assets to report to you at least every 3 months.  And read the report.  If you don’t want to read the report or can’t read the report, ask a lawyer such as myself.  I can usually spot problems within 5 minutes of reviewing an accounting.  The first sign that something is wrong is the accounting isn’t accurate, proper, or supported by receipts.  And there will be lots of ATM and cash withdraws.  To me, that is a solid red flag that warrants further investigation.

The third thing you can do to help protect yourself is to communicate with other people and tell them what is going on with you and your life.  When we are able to intervene and stop abuse before it is too late, it is because the person reaches out to someone for help or with concerns.  Even if you don’t know you might be being taken advantage of, it certainly doesn’t hurt to ask.  We can do that for you or you can go to someone you trust.  I recommend calling the Adult Protective Services in your area and calling your bank.  Those are always good places to start calling.

I’ve only briefly touched upon this subject and will continue to add more on this topic.  I hope you find it helpful and remember, if you don’t understand something or you have any doubts at all, please ask someone and share your thoughts and feelings with them.  Together, we can help protect our beloved elderly population from exploitation.

Chris Gasper