Published in the January 16 – 29, 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

Let’s say you have bank or investment accounts. You count on this money for your well-being, And in the event you pass and still have money left, you probably know who should receive your assets following your death. That describes most people.

But what if the money goes missing through fraud? Maybe it’s a theft you’re not even aware of. Or maybe it’s a scam that you fell for. What happens then? Well, you’re probably out of luck for the missing money.

It you can find out who took the money, you might get some back, or if it’s someone who was going to inherit something from you, you might be able to reduce the amount they’ll inherit to make up for it. In most cases, however, the money is simply gone forever.

A well-known periodical recently stated that “banks have been slow to respond,” and “the trickiest issue for banks, ethically and legally, is how and when to act on concerns over a client’s ability to manage money.”

And also this: “Much of the financial damage done by cognitive decline results from late detection of problems.”

The marketing arms of the major financial institutions are quick to point out how good they are at protecting their depositors, but I’ve seen a lot of problems here locally.

In one case, the local branch of a national bank apparently let $500,000 fly out the door during the course of a couple of years through theft from an elder, and then the bank stepped in and stopped even the elder and their agent under a valid power of attorney from getting the bank records and the results of the internal bank investigation.

How could this be? The bank manager planted her feet and declared they wouldn’t even cooperate with the police department investigation unless they were under subpoena. Really? Is the bank protecting the elder, or are they really protecting themselves?

What’s happening here? Banks and investment companies make money off of your money, and they lose money when they get sued. Think about who they want to protect most. The above client lost a considerable amount of money, and now the bank refuses to help. Contrast that to another client who was immediately tipped off by his credit union and the investment house where he holds assets. They called him about some suspicious activity and stopped any wrongdoing before he was harmed.

How do you protect yourself? Make sure you have the proper legal documents in place long before you start showing signs of mental weakness, and make sure other people close to you know what’s going on and who’s in charge.

Some of the banks leading the charge to protect elders are fine-tuning their computer analytics to look for unusual activity and halt fraud, and others are looking at giving trusted people account visibility without giving them account access. This allows the elder’s trusted individuals to help look for unusual activity.

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In the case of the second person I discussed, we created a unique solution to help prevent any major theft or having the elder fall victim to a scam. It’s hard to come up with a foolproof solution unless the elder is stripped of all authority over their own money, and even then it’s still a problem if the “trusted people” are the ones doing the stealing.

Think about it. Takes steps to protect yourself.

James Ward lives in Morgan Hill. He went to law school in New England and earned a post-graduate law degree in Estate Planning at the University of Miami. Jim worked as an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney in Florida, and then returned to open his law firm focusing on Estate Planning and Elder Law. He has offices in South Valley and Willow Glen.

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James Ward

Jim Ward is a longtime South Valley resident who resides in Morgan Hill. He went to law school in New England and obtained a post-graduate law degree in Estate Planning at the University of Miami. Jim worked as an Estate Planning and Elder Law attorney in Florida, and then returned home to open his own law firm focusing on both Estate Planning and Elder Law. He maintains one office in South Valley and another in Willow Glen.
James Ward
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