Your aging parents may be okay right now, but how about other relatives? How about that isolated neighbor who lives alone and has no one nearby?
This is a shocking real case we encountered at AgingParents.com where we address crises and questions about elders. The names are changed and the facts are true. The man involved was what we call an “elder orphan”. These are the ones with no kids, never married, or widowed and they do not have anyone paying much attention to them as they age. They are vulnerable to predators. His case may be representative of what happens when no one is watching. He is lucky to be alive.
“Tony” age 87 widowed with no children, lived alone and took care of himself. But he was getting frail and it was getting hard to get the grocery shopping done. While at the market, a checker seemed to befriend him and asked if he needed help at home. He agreed that he did. What he didn’t know was that the checker, Mae, who had no caregiving experience, had targeted him. Her evil intent played out. Almost immediately after offering to help, she moved into his house.
Mae swiftly got control over his life and finances. The help Tony needed became her weapon. She refused to take him to the doctor or dentist despite severe hip pain and dental problems. He needed food, but she deprived him until he did as she demanded, giving her Power of Attorney. She went so far as to force him to marry her, taking him to another city, and then threatening to dump him there unless he married her secretly. He was helpless to resist.
As his “wife” Mae seized his bank accounts, pension deposits, safe deposit box with gold in it, and all of his valuables. She isolated him from everyone who knew him. He was cut off for years, trapped and not knowing how to escape. She hit him, left him in ragged clothing and threw his dog against the wall. He had some memory issues but he did remember he had nieces and nephews. When Mae was out of the house one day, he made a desperate call to his nephew, with whom he had been close in years back. He begged for help. The nephew sprang into action. He summoned his 3 siblings, including one out of state, and together, they rescued Uncle Tony and brought him home. Tony’s nephew knew a lawyer who got an emergency court order to remove the “wife” from Tony’s house. Mae had to be escorted out by the police who initially resisted because Tony and the caregiver were married. It was stunning how the police believed the evil caregiver and not Tony nor his family members. Even with a court order in hand, the police were hesitant to evict Mae. His two capable nieces hired workers to clean the filthy house, do repairs, and get Uncle Tony to the dentist and doctor. He was scheduled him for hip surgery. His neice left her out of state home and moved in with her uncle to protect him for good.
When Uncle Tony’s nephew called AgingParents.com for advice, we directed him that a getting a court order immediately to evict Mae was a first step. That done, we then connected the family to an elder abuse attorney who filed papers asking the family law court to nullify the sham marriage. The attorney also filed an elder abuse lawsuit against Mae. She had stolen almost everything Tony had, amounting to over $700,000, but she did not get his valuable home. The pension thefts stopped with other legal steps to remove her from all of his accounts.
Tony was fortunate that he had a good relationship with his nephew, despite the fact that their contact before the crisis was infrequent. And his nephew had the money to pay for both my initial consult and attorneys to file papers in court. Not everyone has a contact who can help that way. His nieces stepped up together to attend to his medical needs, get his home cleaned up and repaired and to ensure his safety with professional caregivers. He is safe at this time and Mae will never have access to him again. Lawsuits are pending. Tony may never get his money or valuables back. Most sickening is that the police took no action against Mae.
Tony is like many other frail elders with advancing age who are easy targets for criminals. Mae must have had an eye on him for a while at the grocery store and she saw her opportunity. If you have an aging family member who is an elder orphan or who has adult children who are not capable of looking out for them, beware. Here are five things you can do, even from afar:
- Check in regularly. If you have an isolated aunt, uncle or even a frail neighbor, check in or visit if it is safe to do so. Ask questions about how these elders are managing in their daily lives. If they seem vulnerable, you can contact the Area Agency on Aging to find resources for them.
- Encourage any elder, whether alone or not, to only hire caregivers from a licensed agency. Agencies at least do some screening of their workers.
- Elders may not be capable of doing essential research like background checks or social media on anyone coming into their home. You could offer to assist.
- Encourage any “elder orphan” you know to get advice from an estate planning attorney and carefully choose someone to be in charge of their finances if they can’t do it alone anymore. An attorney can help size up an elder’s situation for getting a suitable Durable Power of Attorney.
Brutal people taking advantage of elders, as Mae did are out there looking for victims. We can all raise our awareness of this and extend ourselves to help keep elder orphans safe. Imagine that these elders could be ourselves a few years down the road.
You can get expert advice from us at AgingParents.com about how to manage any situation hopefully before it becomes a crisis. Call for an appointment today!
By Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, Consultant