Social Isolation Exposes Elders to Heightened Risk from Scams and Exploitation
This afternoon, someone in my office told me of the plight of an elderly relative. She is 83 years old and scammers have targeted her three times over the past two weeks. First, it was an email allegedly from the IRS demanding immediate payment. Luckily, an alert bank teller stopped her from sending the money. Another time it was actually a telephone call purportedly from a grandson with a crisis and an immediate need for money. He even told her not to tell his parents and but for her last minute decision to do just that she would have been parted from thousands of dollars.
Across Virginia, a lot of elders have been isolated from friends and family due to social distancing. While experts advise us to exercise care to protect elders from exposure to coronavirus because of their weakened immune systems and added vulnerabilities, these elders are vulnerable to other dangers.
America has seen the greatest accumulation of wealth in the history of the world since WWII and now we are witnessing the largest transfer of wealth. Some estimates show that Americans born in the 1920’s and 1930’s are going to leave behind in excess of $10 trillion. Right behind them are baby boomers who have accumulated and will be at some point transferring $30 trillion. In many instances, that wealth is not conspicuous. Among the survivors of the Greatest Generation, it is hardly uncommon to experience the “millionaire next door” phenomenon. There are older Virginians who have accumulated significant wealth, and neither their neighbors, friends nor family may be aware of it because of the modesty of their lifestyle.
This creates a tremendous temptation for caregivers, professionals or even family members who learn of this wealth. For some, the temptation is just too great and it gives rise to self-serving behavior. This may start by a caregiver or relative who cultivates sympathy and then progresses to soliciting gifts, offering to help with the management of accounts or finances, to being named as power of attorney or named on joint bank accounts, and even in some of the most brazen instances, securing a will naming them as beneficiary.
In one case we handled, we exposed an apparent scheme by a professional advisor to defraud an 83-year-old woman. He professed shock upon learning that she had accumulated an estate of nearly $2 Million. She had no family living nearby; she lived modestly and drove a 20-year-old car. All of which projected an impression that she had little or nothing beyond her social security to her name. The professional then secured a will naming himself as her principal beneficiary in hopes that upon her death, the family would ask no questions. Fortunately, an alert family member did ask enough questions, he hired us, and together we were able to expose the fraud.
There is no foolproof way to protect seniors from financial exploitation. Scammers may use email, phone solicitations, or the more insidious means that leverage relationships of trust. To minimize the risk, talk to your vulnerable family members and neighbors. Talk to them about these risks and make sure they understand what to look for. If they are struggling with dementia or other cognitive issues, be especially careful. If you suspect that exploitation, It may be embarrassing, so be gentle and understanding. If there’s no one in a position to protect them call Adult Protective Services. If physical abuse has occurred or if a crime has been committed, call local law enforcement.
Be especially careful if you find yourself a beneficiary of an offer of a gift or bequest. You may become the subject of others’ suspicions. Encourage your potential benefactor to see a lawyer and to go about it in a transparent way that ensures that they know what they are doing and that you are not influencing them.
If significant resources have been lost, the victim or the victim’s family may need legal help. There may be legal remedies that permit the recovery of misappropriated assets along with legal fees and potentially punitive damages. If someone has improperly procured a will for their benefit from an incompetent adult or through undue influence, it’s going to be important to act quickly to investigate and secure the evidence necessary to mount a legal challenge.
SUPPORTIVE ADVOCATES WITH DECADES OF LEGAL EXPERIENCE
If you or a loved one has been the victim of fraud, undue influence, or exploitation in the preparation of a will or trust, then we are here to help you right that wrong. The lawyers at Obenshain Law Group have helped many families with these issues and as trial lawyers, we’ve settled many disputes over the validity of wills and trusts. Contact us to see if we may be able to help you too.
We’re also prepared to help you if you or a loved one has suffered personal injury as the result of someone else’s negligence. If you’re suffering from lifelong injuries as the result of a car, motorcycle, or truck accident, or suspect that a loved one was injured or is being neglected in a nursing home, then contact us today to find a team of supportive advocates to help you recover just compensation for you or your loved one.
Obenshain Law Group is committed to righting wrongs by protecting the vulnerable. Call (540) 318-7360, or contact us online – we’re here to protect you and your legal rights.