Holidays are a notorious time for financial fraud. Scammers capitalize on the generosity of their targets, particularly seniors. What can families do to give their older loved ones, especially aging parents a greater measure of financial safety? If you are getting together with aging parents during the holiday season, consider these tips.
The World Health Organization estimates that one in six older adults worldwide is a victim of elder abuse. As an example close to home, I saw scammers repeatedly go after my mother in law, in her 90s. She was with it enough to fend them off until she was about 95, the last year of her life, when she became increasingly vulnerable. A fake “Medicare” con man finally got her on a phone call, and was able to extract all of her personal information before she even realized what had happened. (Note: Medicare NEVER calls anyone to “verify account information”). We learned of this the next day and rushed to the banks and financial institutions with her to change all of her accounts. This saved her from what was likely a masterful identity theft scheme. We were lucky to learn about it so soon after it happened. That was because of how we closely watched over her. We were in daily phone contact.
Keeping a close watch over your aging parents is indeed a gift. Sometimes they don’t want watching and accuse you of being nosy. However, persistence and gentle persuasion on your part can help. Use stories of how other very smart people have fallen for scams. At AgingParents.com, where we work with families of all kinds, we often hear of elders who believe they are perfectly fine even though everyone around them sees otherwise. Confusion, denial, memory loss and plain stubbornness on the elder’s part can make it very difficult for adult children to initiate the process of accessing information so that looking over an aging parent’s assets can even begin.
One tip we share with clients and one which seems effective from the feedback we get is that a first step is creating online access to parents’ accounts. Aging parents may or may not have bank and investment accounts online but this can be set up by the family members with their parents’ agreement. The trusted family member can at least see what is going on with the money, even without authority to stop or initiate transactions. You will notice suspicious activity and you can sound the alarm.
The Effect of Dementia
We know from competent research that dementia in any form damages financial judgment early in the disease process. This makes it imperative that someone other than the elder have the legal authority to take over financial matters at some point. One thing families can do in the event that dementia is affecting an aging parent is to see an estate planning attorney to update their estate plan, including the Durable Power of Attorney (DPOA) document. This is critical. One 91-year-old confused client of ours with memory loss had only himself as agent on his wife’s DPOA and vice versa. She is bedridden and he is teetering on the edge of incapacity. Neither can really help the other protect against financial abuse. Families can prevent this dangerous scenario by initiating and following through with the proper appointment of a trusted younger person to be the DPOA. Without seeing an attorney, one can download a free, basic Durable Power of Attorney form from the internet in your parents’ state. That form may not cover every possibility, but it will do if parents resist seeing an attorney for drafting a more expanded, detailed form. It must be notarized.
In summary, families with aging parents can give them the gift of greater protection over this holiday season. Try these steps:
- Initiate the conversation with your aging loved ones about financial safety. Avoid doing this at the dinner table. Arrange a quiet moment to bring it up.
- Get online access to accounts so you can see what actions are taking place. Your aging parent must consent but need not participate in online banking.
- Be sure your parents have a current, reasonable appointment of a younger agent on a Durable Power of Attorney document so the trusted person can step in if needed. It could be you.
If your aging parents resist, keep trying. Do not give up when they refuse. In the right hands, a DPOA’s protection can be a wonderful gift to them.
Carolyn L. Rosenblatt, R.N., Attorney, AgingParents.com