Elder Abuse Continues as a Billion-dollar Problem

Elder abuse continues to be a problem for seniors, but individuals can take steps to protect themselves in their estate plans and finances.

Aging baby boomers are a giant target for scammers. A report issued last year from a federal agency, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau highlighted the growth in banks and brokerage firms that reported suspicious activity in elderly clients’ accounts. The monthly filing of suspicious activity reports tied to elder financial exploitation increased four times from 2013 through 2017, according to a recent article from the Rome-News Tribune titled “Financial abuse steals billions from seniors each year.”

When the victim knew the other person, a family member or an acquaintance, the average loss was around $50,000. When the victim did not have a personal relationship with their scammer, the average loss was around $17,000.  See this recent blog for more background.  https://www.galliganmanning.com/elder-financial-abuse-is-increasing/

What can you do to protect yourself, now and in the future, from becoming a victim? There are many ways to build a defense that will make it less likely that you or a loved one will become a victim of these scams.

First, don’t put off taking steps to protect yourself, while you are relatively young. Putting safeguards into place now can make you less vulnerable in the future. If you are suffer bad health and lack of capacity later, it may be too late.

Create a durable power of attorney as part of your estate plan. The power of attorney names a trusted person you name as your legal representative or agent, who can manage your financial affairs if need be.  You should also consider using a trust which owns assets during your lifetime.  While it is true that family members are often the ones who commit financial elder abuse, you’ll need to put your trust in someone. Usually this is an adult child or a relative. You may also consider a bank as a trustee.  They will charge for their services, but their professionalism makes a bank an excellent choice.

It may also help to bring your agent, trustee and other loved ones into the discussion about assisting with your finances well before incapacity and be open with them about what you want your fiduciaries to do.  Of course, many people are hesitant to discuss finances openly, but as Justice Brandeis remarked over a hundred years ago, “Sunshine is said to be the best of disinfectants.”  Having multiple people aware of what is happening and what your fiduciaries are doing may prevent one bad actor from attempting or getting away with elder abuse.

Consider the guaranteed income approach to retirement planning. Figuring out how to generate a steady stream of income as you face the cognitive declines that occur in later years might be a challenge. Planning for this in advance will be better.  Social Security is one of the most valuable sources of guaranteed income. If you will receive a pension, try not to do a lump sum payout with the intent to invest the money on your own. That lump sum makes you a rich target for scammers.

Consider rolling over 401(k) accounts into Roth accounts, or simply into one account. If you have one or more workplace retirement plans, consolidating them will make it easier for you or your representative to manage investments and required minimum distributions.

Make sure that you have an estate plan in place, or that your estate plan is current. Over time, families grow and change, financial situations change and the intentions you had ten, twenty or even thirty years ago, may not be the same as they are today. An experienced estate planning attorney can ensure that your wishes today are followed, through the use of a will, trust and other estate planning strategies.

Resource: Rome News-Tribune (April 27, 2020) “Financial abuse steals billions from seniors each year.”

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Does Your Executor Know What to Do?

Don't leave a mess for your executor clean up. There are ways to make your executor's job easier.
Don’t leave a mess for your executor clean up. There are ways to make your executor’s job easier.

Next Avenue’s recent article entitled “Is Your Estate as Planned As You Think?” explains that when you pass away your executor will have many tasks to perform when settling your estate.

It’s helpful to add clarity and lessen the burden of your executor’s work in advance. Look at this list of things to make sure your estate is as planned as you think it is:

Is your will current? If you’ve written your will, how long has it been since you drafted it? Have there been any major changes in your life since that time? If so, it’s likely time to update it. Review your will to make certain that it’s an accurate representation of your assets and your wishes now.

Is your will detailed? Yes, you’ve addressed the big stuff, but what about smaller items with sentimental value? You should list who gets what, to avoid fighting, especially if the executor is one of your beneficiaries.

Do you have a way to distribute your other personal items? You should determine how your family will divide up the possessions not explicitly listed in your will, such as the lawnmower, dishes and photographs. All of it will need to be either distributed by the executor to one of your beneficiaries, donated, or sold.

Are your financial affairs organized? Your executor will need to know if you have any recurring payments, as well as your account number, and online passwords. Create a list of regular monthly bills, along with your account numbers and access codes to simplify your executor’s job.

You will also need to let the executor know about any automatic deductions or charges on your credit card, internet-based subscriptions, club memberships, recurring charitable donations and automatic utility payments.

Making your wishes clear for your executor can help ensure that there’s less stress and an easy distribution of your assets.

Your estate planning attorney can help you address these issues to make things easier for your executor and your family. And while speaking with your estate planning attorney, ask about advance medical directives such as a medical power of attorney, a living will, a HIPAA waiver and whether you should have a trust.

For more information on wills see https://www.galliganmanning.com/understanding-why-a-will-is-important/.

Reference: Next Avenue (Feb. 25, 2020) “Is Your Estate as Planned As You Think?”

 

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Coronavirus Causes Increase in Estate Plan Updates

Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.
Many estate plan updates are being done by video conference.

With the ever-increasing number of deaths from the coronavirus in Europe and the U.S., many people are now focusing on getting their estate plans in order. Phone meetings or videoconferences with estate planning attorneys have become the new way of updating estate plans, says Barron’s in the article “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know.” This is the case at Galligan & Manning where we have been meeting with our clients by phone or video conference and arranging for documents to be executed in the safety of our clients’ homes.

People are worried, and they are in a hurry too.

Here are a few tips:

Everyone should have three basic documents: a last will or revocable living trust, a financial durable power of attorney, and a medical power of attorney. These documents will allow assets to be distributed, give another person the ability to make financial decisions, if you are too sick to do so, and  allow another person to talk to medical professionals and make medical desisions on your behalf . These same documents are also a good idea for any young adults in the family, anyone older than 18 in Texas.

However, there’s more. In addition to these basic documents, everyone needs to review their beneficiary designations on assets that include bank accounts, IRAs, annuities, insurance policies and any other assets. If family situations have changed, these may be out of date.

Also, parents of minor children need to execute documents appointing guardians to care for their minor children in the event the parent is unable to do so.

While young adults may be more worried about the financial impact of the pandemic, seniors and the elderly are concerned about having documents in order. Wealthy people are concerned about the impact that the pandemic may have on estate planning law, and some are engaged in planning to make substantial gifts, in case the current estate and give tax exemptions are lowered.

Specific issues to be discussed with an estate planning attorney:

  • The advantages of certain trusts, which provide an opportunity to direct how assets will be held, invested and distributed before and after death.
  • Financial durable powers of attorney, which appoint an agent to make financial decisions.
  • Medical powers of attorney which let people designate an agent to make health decisions on their behalf
  • HIPAA Releases which allow family members receive health care and medical information from your health care providers.
  • Living wills, which allow people to designate whether to provide life-prolonging treatment, if in a terminal state

To learn more about what you need to consider when updating your estate plan see https://www.galliganmanning.com/estate-planning-life-stages/.

Reference: Barron’s (March 22, 2020) “The Coronavirus Has Americans Scrambling to Set Their Estate Plans. Here Are Some Key Things to Know”

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