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Last week, the Investor Protection Trust released its latest research study and it’s sadly not a big surprise for those who represent the elderly and seniors here in South Florida:  according to the IPT, “theft or diversion of funds or property by family members”  – that’s right, family members – is the number one way that elders and seniors are being taken advantage of (exploited) financially in America today.

Family Members are Exploiting Elder Americans and Senior Citizens In Various Ways

According to IPT, the three most common ways that elders are getting bamboozled are the following:

  • “theft or diversion of funds or property by family members” (79%);
  • “theft or diversion of funds or property by caregivers” (49%); and
  • “financial scams perpetrated by strangers” (47%).

In their August 2012 press release, the Investor Protection Trust included the following opinion from a prominent physician who specializes in treating the elderly – and who writes a column for HuffPo. Mark Lachs, M.D., M.P.H., Irene and Roy Psaty Distinguished Professor of Medicine, Weill Cornell Medical College, and Director of Geriatrics, New York-Presbyterian Healthcare System, said:

“Elder financial abuse is not only about financial exploitation: It is a major public health problem. When older Americans are financially exploited and there are no resources left for their care, these individuals effectively become wards of the state. In these cases, all Americans end up paying. This is a major problem and we know there is significant underreporting. I am an epidemiologist and what we are looking at here qualifies as an epidemic. And it’s not only minor financial exploitation but includes major problems like people getting deeds to houses, taking out credits cards, getting control of bank accounts, etc. That’s why I tell the residents who I train around these issues that an annual physical may be the only opportunity to intervene.”

Larry Tolchinsky’s Tip:

Representing the elderly and senior citizens here in South Florida means dealing with lots of money issues, usually for things like estate planning and powers of attorney and the like.  Unfortunately, South Florida estate planning lawyers and elder attorneys are all too often witnesses to children who may sometimes take advantage of their parent’s desire to help them out by simply failing to decline the parent’s invitation — to other children who actually manipulate and con their mother or father out of assets: money, credit cards, and the like.

Sad but true.  Some kids take too much and may not do so with active intent to swindle their mom or dad; other kids are just plain thieves.  Either way, it’s very unusual for the parent to press charges: they refuse to believe (denial) or they refuse to act (shame).  And that’s in the best case scenario for the elderly person.  There are also many, many instances where there’s not an issue of denial or shame because the parent suffers dementia of some sort, and simply does not remember that anything untoward has taken place.

Legal Issues Get Complicated When Kids Take Advantage of Elderly Parents

No matter how great the senior citizen’s estate planning may have been, if their kid has been in the cookie jar, then the assets aren’t there to become a part of implementing those well-laid plans.  This can have major complications for the parent — and sometimes, for all the family as well.

For example, a senior who has planned for the need of long-term care at a nursing home or care facility may be met with a harsh surprise when the Veteran’s Administration or Medicaid denies him or her benefits because significant assets have been transferred from the applicant to their child within the past five years.   Federal assistance won’t be available here because the federal government will assume that the parent has tried to hide assets in order to take advantage of federal programs.

Another example: the elder who passes away and as the estate is being probated the rest of the family learns that most of the parent’s assets have disappeared. It’s only after investigation that grieving loved ones learn that a family member has taken advantage of the parent financially, or that the family member has taken money or assets outright.

Exploitation can serve as the basis of a Florida will contest, but it’s only after the damage has been done.  Similarly, legal defenses can be asserted to federal agencies to prove exploitation and to reverse the denial of benefits.  In both cases, it is an emotional battlefield for the family members as each item of proof is usually very painful.

If you suspect that a loved one or elder is being exploited by anyone, then don’t be silent and don’t procrastinate.  Tell someone.  Tell Adult Protective Services.  Get legal counsel.  Take action.

Do you have questions or comments? Then please feel free to Chat with Larry in the comments below, at or (954) 458-8655.

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