Published in the February 13 – 26 2019 issue of Morgan Hill Life

The rate of elder financial abuse is increasing rapidly and is expected to keep increasing. Some of this is real estate fraud, but the greater number of scams are committed through bank accounts.

Real estate fraud is less common, but the value of the fraud can be huge. I was recently presented with a case where the daughter took advantage of her ill father and had five properties transferred to her name. Yes, more than $2 million of net equity. The elder hired and paid an attorney to get the properties back, but he unfortunately hired an attorney who did nothing for two years and who has also had other claims against him for not performing on cases. The elder has since filed a claim against the attorney and I referred him to a good attorney who took the litigation case, but the property is still in the daughter’s name and more than two years have gone by since he was scammed.

In another case, an elder in her 90s was unaware that her trust was irrevocable and she had given all control, as well as her home, to a caregiver friend who she had met through her church. The caregiver friend had moved away more than two years ago and “bought a big ranch for herself.” Did she buy the ranch with money from someone else who was fooled into trusting her? Wow! I don’t know, but without court intervention to protect the elder, the woman in her 90s can’t even sell her own home to get access to those funds to pay for her care.

Banks are stepping up their efforts to oversee the accounts of elders to protect them against fraud, but this isn’t an easy task. When an elder is talked into making an electronic transfer, do they know what they’re doing? Do they really know who will eventually receive the money? Do they know the person? Has the elder ever done this before? Do bank records indicate that the elder has come into a branch recently so someone may have spoken to them in person to see how they’re doing?

Banks are training their staff members to watch for clues, and they’re also designing computer programs that should raise a red flag when there are unusual events such as someone older than 85 making regular ATM withdrawals — especially if those regular withdrawals are occurring after midnight and the elder is most likely at home in bed. But as banks get smarter, so do the scammers.

The ‘grandchild scam’ has been around for years, and it’s still being used for one simple reason — it often works to scam elders. I’ve had several clients tell me that they’ve gotten these calls where people tried to trick them into sending money to help a grandchild who was supposedly in trouble.

How are you protecting yourself? How are you helping and encouraging others to protect themselves and their assets?

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Don’t wait too long. I just had a husband come in with his wife of several decades, and it was clear she could no longer make legal or financial decisions. She has two children and has been married to the same man for more than 50 years, but she was sitting right next to him when she told me clearly she had no children and she had never been married.

Don’t let yourself or your loved ones fall into the trap of having waited too long, or not having trusted persons involved in your life and finances to help protect you.

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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