Elder Financial Abuse Fraud Occurs, When No One’s Watching – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The case of Nice vs. U.S. is a dramatic example of what can happen when there are no professionals involved in an elderly person’s finances and one person has the power to make transactions without supervision. In the article “Tax case reveals possible intrafamily fraud” from Financial Planning, a trusted son allegedly decimated his mother’s IRA and left her estate with $500,000 tax bill.

Mrs. Nice and her husband had been married for more than 60 years. Before he died in 2002, her husband arranged to leave significant assets for his wife’s care. Their son Chip was named executor of the husband’s estate and moved in with his mother. In 2007, she was diagnosed with dementia. As her condition deteriorated, Chip allegedly began fraudulent activities. He gained access to her IRAs, causing distributions to be made from the IRAs and then allegedly taking the funds for his own use.

Chip also filed federal income tax returns for his mother, causing her to execute a fraudulent power of attorney. The federal tax returns treated the IRA distributions as taxable income to Mrs. Nice. She not only lost the money in her IRA but got hit with a whopping tax bill.

In 2014, Mrs. Nice’s daughter Julianne applied for and received a temporary injunction against Chip, removing him from her mother’s home and taking away control of her finances. Chip died in 2015. A court found that Mrs. Nice was not able to manage her own affairs and Mary Ellen was appointed as a guardian. Julianne filed amended tax returns on behalf of her mother, claiming a refund for tax years 2006-07 and 2009-13. The IRS accepted the claim for 2009 but denied the claims for 2006 and 2010-2013. The appeal for 2009 was accepted, but the IRS never responded to the claim for 2007. Julianne appealed the denials, but each appeal was denied.

By then, Mrs. Nice had died. Julianne brought a lawsuit against the IRS seeking a refund of $519,502 in federal income taxes plus interest and penalties. The suit contended that because of her brother’s alleged fraudulent acts, Mrs. Nice never received the IRA distributions. Her tax returns for 2011-2014 overstated her actual income, the suit maintained, and she was owed a refund for overpayment. The court did not agree, stating that Julianne failed to show that her mother did not receive the IRA funds and denied the claim.

There are a number of harsh lessons to be learned from this family’s unhappy saga.

When IRA funds are mishandled or misappropriated, it may be possible for the amounts taken to be rolled over to an IRA, if a lawsuit to recover the losses occurs in a timely manner. In 2004, the IRS issued 11 private-letter rulings that allow lawsuit settlements to be rolled over to IRAs. The IRS allowed the rollovers and gave owners 60 days from the receipt of settlement money to complete the rollover.

Leaving one family member in charge of family wealth with no oversight from anyone else—a trustee, an estate planning attorney, or a financial planner—is a recipe for elder financial abuse. Even if the funds had remained in the IRA, a fiduciary would have kept an eye on the funds and any distributions that seemed out of order.

One of the goals of an estate plan is to protect the family’s assets, even from members of their own family. An estate plan can be devised to arrange for the care of a loved one, at the same time it protects their financial interests.

Reference: Financial Planning (March 6, 2020) “Tax case reveals possible intrafamily fraud”

 

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Why Do Seniors Get Scammed by Family Members? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The Detroit Free Press’ recent article entitled “Elderly getting scammed by their own family members — and one group wants to stop it” says that the average victim can lose $120,000 to financial exploitation, according to AARP research. Repeated, out-of-the-ordinary cash withdrawals are a big sign of exploitation and scams.

“People are literally being robbed every day through scams or financial exploitation from members of their own family,” said Debra Whitman, executive vice president and chief public policy officer at AARP.

As part of the battle, AARP has launched a new online training module for bank and credit union employees who work with customers on the front lines as a way to prevent financial exploitation.

Instances of elder financial abuse can increase during the holidays because more family members and friends are around.

Financial exploitation has included abusing the relationship with an older relative or friend to force him or her into giving them a big portion of savings that’s in a bank or transferring property to someone else. It may begin with withdrawing just a few hundred dollars from a bank account and then build to repeated requests for more money. This type of exploitation may include misusing a power of attorney by denying an elderly person access to his or her own money and withdrawing money out of a senior’s bank account.

Many perpetrators are known to the victim, such as family members, caregivers, or other workers in the home. In addition to losing a life’s savings, seniors who are victims of scammers or loved ones can have a more rapid decline in health because of the emotional stress from being a victim of financial abuse.

According to a report called “Suspicious Activity Reports on Financial Exploitation: Issues and Trends” released in February by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, older adults lost an average of $48,300, when the activity involved a checking or savings account. This type of suspicious activity on average took place over a four-month period. Suspicious activity reports for elder financial exploitation quadrupled from 2013 to 2017. In 2017, this activity totaled 63,500 incidents. These reports may also be only a fraction of actual incidents, which may go unreported by victims.

AARP is promoting an online training effort called BankSafe that trains bank tellers and other front-line staff to take more direct action when they suspect a case of financial exploitation. They are encouraged to ask the customer probing questions when they see a possible red flag and even mention the situation to a supervisor who may be able to intervene.

AARP’s BankSafe pilot program was launched for six months at nearly 500 branches of banks and credit unions in 11 states. Nearly $1 million was protected when front line employees who participated in the pilot program intervened and stopped criminals from stealing money from the accounts of seniors. In some instances, the bank employee who stopped someone from being exploited refused or delayed a suspicious transaction, put a hold on the account, or explained concerns to the customer who was a potential victim.

The average victim was a woman between 70 and 79 with less than $20,000 in her bank account, according to the new AARP research. The estimated cost of financial exploitation varies but may be more than $2.9 billion a year.

Reference: Detroit Free Press (October 16, 2019) “Elderly getting scammed by their own family members — and one group wants to stop it”

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When Is the Best Time to Disinherit a Child? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This may sound like something out of a Dickens novel, but sadly, it is someone’s real life. A woman is mourning the loss of her mother. She is the trustee and only beneficiary of her mother’s trust, as explained in the article “It’s never too early to disinherit children” appearing in the Santa Cruz Sentinel. After disappearing for decades, her sister visited with the mother a few times a year toward the end of the mother’s life. Now the sister has retained an attorney to challenge the trust, accusing the woman of elder abuse and stating that the mother was insane.

What can this sister expect?

The goal of the formerly absent sister is to get the trust thrown out so that the estate will pass equally between the two sisters. She can accomplish this if she is able to invalidate the trust and invalidate any prior wills the mother may have signed disinheriting one sister and leaving everything to the other sister.

She may not have a case with a lot of merit, but it is going to cost a lot to defend the estate plan. She may be hoping for a quick payoff.

Whether the case is successful may depend upon the circumstances surrounding the creation of the trust. In the best case, the mother would have gone to see the attorney by herself and created the trust with zero involvement of the sister who is the trustee. Even better would be if the trustee sister didn’t know a thing about the trust or the estate plan, until after it was completed.

Here’s the concern: if the mother created the trust only after she became dependent on the more involved sister and if that sister selected the attorney, made the appointment and had a conversation with the attorney about how awful the other sister was, then it will be hard to prove that the trust was set up purely on the mother’s wishes.

It’s an odd lesson, but in truth, it’s never too early to take steps to disinherit children. If someone knows that they are going to create an estate plan that is going to make one or more people very unhappy, the sooner they document these wishes, the better. It should be done while the person is still living independently and does not require a lot of help from any family member.

Keeping the people who will benefit from the disinheritance out of the creation of the estate plan is best, since it further removes them from involvement and is better when they are accused of being manipulative.

The best tactic is to create an estate plan with the help of an experienced estate planning attorney who can serve as a neutral and unbiased witness and can testify to the fact that the person knew what they were doing when the estate plan was created.

Reference: Santa Cruz Sentinel (June 2, 2019) “It’s never too early to disinherit children”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Financial Scams Targeting Seniors: How To Protect Yourself – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It’s scary to think about. A time in life when people have the most assets under their care, is also the time that aging begins to take its toll on their bodies and their cognitive abilities. The legions of individuals actively preying on seniors to take advantage of them seems to be growing exponentially. What can you do?

Marketplace offers tips on how to best protect yourself and loved ones from scammers in its article “Concerned about financial scams? Here’s your guide.”

Stay in touch with family members, especially if they have lost loved ones to death or divorce. Isolation makes seniors vulnerable to scammers.

Try not to be judgmental and be empathetic if someone reveals that they have been scammed. Seniors who have been scammed are embarrassed and fearful.

Talk about the scams that you have heard about with loved ones. They may not know about the scams, and this may give them better awareness when the call comes.

If anyone in the family calls with an urgent request for money—often about a grandchild who is in trouble overseas or a fee for a prize that needs to be claimed immediately—pause and tell them that you need time to consider it.

Don’t send or wire money to anyone you don’t know. Gift cards from retailers, Google Play, iTunes or Amazon gift cards are often used by scammers to set up fraudulent transactions.

Once one scammer has nailed down contact information for a victim, they are more likely to be contacted by other scammers. If a loved one is getting calls at all hours of the day, they may be on a list of scam prospects. Consider changing the number, even though that is a hassle. The same goes for email addresses.

You can prevent scams by talking with people you trust about your financial goals. Talk with an estate planning attorney about creating an advance medical directive and medical power of attorney, then do the same for finances. A power of attorney for your finances allow someone who you know and trust to make financial decisions for you, if you become incapacitated, by illness or injury.

There are different powers of attorney:

General: A designated person can control parts of your financial life. When you return to normal functioning, the power of attorney ends.

Durable: This power of attorney remains in effect, if you become incapacitated.

Springing: This power of attorney is triggered by a life event, like the onset of dementia, an accident or disease, makes you mentally diminished or incapacitated. Certain states do not permit this type of power of attorney, so check with your estate planning attorney.

Reference: Marketplace (May 16, 2019) “Concerned about financial scams? Here’s your guide”

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What Can I Do When My Aging Parent Refuses to Give Up Control? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

It’s a common problem for families when a parent in charge of finances develops cognitive impairment and needs help managing the family trust and his own spending. It can be financially dangerous with a stubborn parent.

Forbes’ recent article asks, “What Can You Do When A Stubborn Aging Parent Refuses To Give Up Control?” The article explains what it took one family to get an aging parent out of the position as trustee and to permit the successor, the adult daughter, to take over.

The family saw signs of dementia and a family member’s financial abuse.

The trust provided that the parent could be removed as trustee, if two physicians declared him to be incapacitated for handling his own finances. In that case, a judge’s decision wasn’t required. The doctors verified that the elderly parent was incapacitated to safely handle his money. However, all this takes time.

A parent’s failure to listen to reason and their stubborn refusal to resign as trustee when asked, can cost his children dearly. In that situation, a family may have to engage an attorney to resolve the problem.

Remember that even if your aging parents are fine, there’s no time like the present to ask them to review their estate planning documents with you. Look at the terms that define what happens in the event of “incapacity.” Be sure that all of you understand what would happen, if impaired parents are unwilling to give up financial control and you have to institute the proscribed process to remove control from them.

Those who are named in a trust as the “successor trustee,” must know what that means and how much responsibility is involved. The family needs to recognize that financial elder abuse is a huge problem in our country, and family members are frequently the abusers. If you see abuse, and your elderly parent can’t resist the pressure to give money to any dishonest person, an elder law attorney will be able to give you worthwhile advice on the best approach, as well as the law.

Lastly, in the event your aging parent never created an estate plan, work with an experienced estate planning attorney and ask your parent to get going for the family’s sake. You don’t want to live through the situation described above, with no legal means to stop an impaired parent from financial ruin.

Reference: Forbes (May 7, 2019) “What Can You Do When A Stubborn Aging Parent Refuses To Give Up Control?”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

How are Financial Advisors Trying to Prevent Financial Exploitation? – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

The next time you see your financial adviser, you may be asked to provide a trusted point of contact, such as a relative or friend to call, if the adviser has a reasonable belief that you might be a victim of financial exploitation.

Kiplinger’s recent article, “New Rules Battle Financial Scams, Elder Abuse” says that your adviser could place a temporary hold on a suspicious disbursement request from you, so your money is protected until the concern is investigated. Once money leaves an account, it’s hard to get it back.

Changes include several new laws that protect seniors and their money. For older adults, financial exploitation is a growing problem. One in five older Americans are the victim of financial exploitation each year, resulting in the loss of $3 billion annually.

Mild cognitive impairment can result in older adults not seeing red flags for fraud, says Michael Pieciak, president of the North American Securities Administrators Association (NASAA), which represents state securities regulators. The ability to judge risk may be diminished. He noted that social isolation plays a part, with vulnerable seniors home during the day and apt to answer the phone when a fraudster calls.

Federal and state lawmakers, along with the financial services industry, have initiated new rules to help safeguard seniors and their assets. The idea is that financial institutions and professionals are on the front lines of spotting elder financial abuse. The changes are designed to protect seniors and to shield financial professionals from liability for reporting possible exploitation.

Congress passed the Senior Safe Act in 2018. This law protects financial services professionals from being sued over privacy and other violations for reporting suspected elder financial abuse to law enforcement, provided they’ve been trained. If a bank teller notices that a senior seems confused about withdrawing money or making puzzling transactions, the teller could tell a superior, who could contact authorities, if necessary.

Nineteen states have enacted some version of a NASAA model act that provides registered investment advisers and broker-dealers with guidance on telling a trusted point of contact and putting a temporary hold on a client’s account to investigate financial fraud.

Reference: Kiplinger (April 3, 2019) “New Rules Battle Financial Scams, Elder Abuse”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys

Legitimate Power of Attorney Use Leaves Widow Impoverished – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning

This is a cautionary tale about what can happen, when the wrong person is given power of attorney. The problem here is that a man changed his power of attorney without any review or oversight from any family members, including his own wife.

Why Dorothy Jorgenson’s husband changed his power of attorney just days before his death, is something that only he and the relative he named will ever know. However, the relative acted fast and took more than $70,000 from the couple’s joint bank account, says WPRI.com in the article, “Son questions power of attorney after mother’s bank account is drained.”

“When I went to pick up a prescription for my mother, there was insufficient funds to pick up a prescription,” Dorothy’s son, Gene Weston, said. “I can’t believe that someone would do that to an elderly woman.”

The couple had been married for almost twenty years. Both had added money to the account.

“My mother is still alive, and my mother needs to continue living,” Weston said.

The son called the police, because he claims there’s no way the power of attorney document for his stepfather was legitimate.

“He was on morphine at the time,” Gene Weston said.

According to a local police report, detectives interviewed several people and found Jorgensen’s husband was “only taking a minimal dose of meds.”

Police determined that Mr. Jorgensen “acted with his own free will” and ended their criminal investigation. However, these types of cases involving powers of attorney, often wind up in civil court. When people make a change to a power of attorney right before their death, it can raise concerns, especially when the person is elderly and on medication.

One thing that many people don’t know, is that they can limit the power of attorney document to protect a surviving spouse or family members.

It’s important to carefully choose an agent and make certain that the power of attorney is properly notarized. You should select a person whom you trust, and whom you know will do the right thing for you, in case you can’t make your own decisions.

Despite her actions, the relative who withdrew the money maintains her innocence.

Reference: WPRI 12 (April 15, 2019) “Son questions power of attorney after mother’s bank account is drained”

Sims & Campbell, LLC – Annapolis and Towson Estate Planning Attorneys