June 15 was World Elder Abuse and Awareness Day, a yearly recognition begun in 2006 to call attention to the growing problem of fraud, abuse, neglect, and exploitation directed at elders. An estimated 5 million older Americans every year are victims, according to the Department of Health and Human Service’s National Center on Elder Abuse.
Seniors are especially susceptible to scam artists. But sometimes unscrupulous family members or associates can also be guilty of exploitation, fraud, or abuse.
There are several steps you can take now to protect your loved ones and yourself from falling prey to scams and other exploitation in senior years. A Tennessee estate planning attorney can help you with many of these defensive steps.
- Plan ahead, before you experience any cognitive decline, to determine how your affairs should be managed. Consult with your family, with a financial planner, money manager, and attorney to help you think through the best way forward to protect your assets.
- Consider executing a Power of Attorney (POA) to allow a loved one to manage your financial affairs as your “attorney-in-fact.” You should only appoint a highly trusted person close to you to serve in this capacity. In some cases, naming two attorneys-in-fact in your POA – and specifying that they must both act together (jointly) – is a smart way to ensure that your affairs will not be managed by a single individual alone.
- You may want to discuss placing your assets in a trust, and naming a knowledgeable, dependable trustee to manage your assets once you are unable to do so. You may even want to consider naming a corporate trustee. Many banks provide this service.
- Do not sign any documents you don’t understand without first consulting an attorney.
- Do not provide bank account information, social security numbers, or other personal information to individuals you don’t know.
- Get to know your banker and anyone who handles your finances. Building a relationship with them means they are more able to spot suspicious activity related to your accounts and raise red flags where appropriate.
- Never pay a fee to a third party so that you can collect alleged “winnings,” or to avoid IRS penalty. (Also, the IRS will not call you to try to collect a tax bill or to “verify” tax information over the phone. Those are well-known scams.)
The best way to protect yourself or your loved ones as they age is to be aware and make plans to structure your financial life in the most well-protected way possible.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been the victim of any form of elder financial abuse, or suspect someone is trying to take advantage of you, contact Tennessee’s Adult Protective Services, a division of Tennessee’s Department of Health. Adult Protective Services “investigates reports of abuse, neglect (including self-neglect) or financial exploitation of adults who are unable to protect themselves due to a physical or mental limitation. APS staff assess the need for protective services and provide services to reduce the identified risk to the adult.”
Please contact us today online or by calling 800.705.2121 to discuss your legal options.