As an attorney who provides legal assistance to the elderly, you’re likely often asked to prepare a power of attorney or other legal documents to protect your aging clients. Such documents are especially important for individuals with Alzheimer’s disease or dementia, as they are particularly susceptible to financial abuse.
To protect vulnerable clients from fraud and financial abuse, it’s important to understand how a private fiduciary can help.
Indications of Financial Abuse
Unfortunately, financial elder abuse is very common, and the exploitation of a senior’s money or assets is easy to overlook or miss. However, there are some behaviors and actions that may indicate financial exploitation of a senior. Warning signs of financial abuse include:
- Sudden banking changes, such as suspicious withdrawals of large sums of money or additional names on bank accounts
- A senior who has otherwise been financially responsible suddenly maxes out credit cards, stops paying bills, or isn’t buying food and other necessities
- Missing possessions, especially those of value
If you notice any of these behaviors from an aging client, you need to address the issue immediately. Start by discussing your suspicions with your client in a sincere and compassionate manner. Make sure they understand that you only have their best interests and financial security in mind.
Why Hire a Private Fiduciary
Preparing legal documents, such as a power of attorney or living trust, can help protect the assets of a senior living with Alzheimer’s or dementia. Family members are often appointed to act as trustee. Unfortunately, family members are also the most likely culprits of financial elder abuse. A family member may attempt to coerce a senior into altering their will, increase their inheritance, steal possessions, or add their name to financial accounts.
Furthermore, acting as a trustee is a big responsibility, since mistakes have a major impact on everyone involved. To ensure every financial decision is objective and appropriate, your clients need to hire a professional fiduciary. The services of a professional fiduciary are especially necessary when an aging adult begins losing the mental capacity to make important financial decisions.
How You Can Help
If you suspect your elderly client may have Alzheimer’s or dementia, or they have recently been diagnosed, you and your client need to move quickly to secure their estate. Drafting a durable power of attorney or a living trust can help people with the disease and help their families avoid conflict and court actions. To ensure your client’s trust, estate, or conservatorship is being managed legally, ethically, and accurately, refer them to a trusted private fiduciary.
If you suspect your client has already been the victim of financial or physical abuse, you should also contact Adult Protective Services or local law enforcement as soon as possible: http://www.cdss.ca.gov/Adult-Protective-Services
How We Can Help
An attorney had a client who was being financially abused by her son, who was taking large sums of his mother’s money to make unnecessary extravagant purchases for himself. The attorney was drafting a trust, and Marcia L. Campbell, CPA was contacted to act as independent trustee to protect the client’s money and home. Shortly after, the client began showing signs of dementia and soon received an Alzheimer’s diagnosis. She was placed in a memory care unit and, unfortunately, died within six months. Because of the trust, and our work as private fiduciary, when she died, there was still a legacy for her other children and grandchildren.
An Alzheimer’s or dementia diagnosis is overwhelming for the individual and their family. As you and your clients prepare for their future, discuss the benefits of hiring a professional fiduciary to protect their money and their assets. At Marcia L. Campbell, CPA, we act as trusted professional fiduciaries and advocates for many of our clients.
If you are interested in learning more about our services, please contact us by filling out a Contact Form or giving us a call at +1(949) 686-3608