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Avoiding Elder Financial Abuse

Actor Mickey Rooney recently testified in Washington that he has been a victim of elder abuse, putting him among some 2.1 million aging Americans who each year suffer some form of financial, physical, psychological or other abuse, according to the American Psychological Association. Mickey Rooney’s experience highlights a rising problem in a graying nation—and it shows that elder abuse is not limited by location, status or wealth. Here are just a few tips that the elderly and their families should consider to prevent elder abuse. The elderly should take these precautionary steps:
  • Subscribe to national and state DO NOT CALL lists.
  • Keep social security cards in a safe place.
  • Avoid giving personal information over the phone.
  • Delete unsolicited emails that request personal information or money.
  • Not open doors to strangers.
  • Remove mail promptly from the mailbox.
  • Review bills and bank statements promptly for accuracy.
  • Shred all confidential and financial information prior to discarding.
  • Make a copy of all items in their wallets and keep it in a safe place.
Families of the elderly should take these precautionary steps: 1. Beware of a new trusted friend. Do Mom and Dad have a neighbor, caregiver, sibling or other outsider who is suddenly their best friend running errands, going to the bank or generally being around when they were not in your parents’ past at all? This can be a warning sign that someone is taking advantage. 2. Watch for unusual account activity. Review your parents’ bank and investment statements for excess activity at the ATM, excessive trading in the brokerage account, many cash withdrawals or other suspicious activity. As they age, the elderly usually want simplification so new accounts or a lot of activity in existing accounts is a signal of potential trouble. To prevent elder financial abuse, also watch out for someone becoming a joint account holder for your parents’ “convenience.” 3. Look through mail and email. Correspondence with people you don’t know or solicitations from questionable charities should be investigated. The elderly often are concerned about taking care of people who are less fortunate and are vulnerable to requests from charities that are not legitimate. 4. Keep aware of the will. Victims of elderly abuse often want to change their will to take care of someone who has been kind to them in their later years. 5. Visit. One of the most important prevention techniques is to visit with your parents often. This advice holds for avoiding financial, physical and verbal abuse. Abuse can come from a caregiver, nursing home personnel, and even a sibling. Regular and unscheduled visits can be a powerful tool for fighting abuse. Both should: Use Google. If they’re online, the elderly should set “Google alerts” to track the names of all of their advisors. Families of the elderly should do the same. While not foolproof, Google alerts can help bring to light troubling news articles, forum posts or other material that might otherwise go undiscovered. On the flip side, they can highlight accolades for advisors that help instill confidence. Be careful with a POA. The elderly should give power of attorney only to someone they trust without question. There are alternatives. One is a springing power of attorney, which only applies upon a certain event. Another is a revocable trust to hold assets with a corporate entity as a trustee. Corporate trustees often have detailed knowledge about issues affecting the elderly and are bonded. Get advice you can trust. CPA financial planners have extensive experience helping the elderly plan and protect their estates and are available nationwide to offer advice on avoiding financial abuse. To talk with a CPA personal financial specialist about elder planning in your market, visit About the author. Ted Sarenski, a CPA financial planner in Syracuse, NY, is the chair of the Elder Planning Task Force of the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants (AICPA).