Q:  How Can the Elderly Avoid Financial Abuse? Increased dependency due to illness or cognitive impairments can make seniors susceptible to financial abuse. Nest eggs accumulated over decades are all too often attractive targets for predators, whether the predator is an offshore bogus sweepstakes, a care provider who sees an opportunity to be paid more than an hourly wage, or a family member with financial or other problems.

A:  Here are 10 tips… Transparency provides the strongest protection against abuse. If others are aware of the senior’s finances, either potential predators will see that no opportunity exists to exploit the senior or family members or professionals can step in to keep fraud from going too far. Here are some steps seniors or their loved ones can take to prevent financial abuse.

  1. Arrange for account oversight. Make sure that someone close to the senior has access to her accounts to be able to see if anything unusual is going on (e.g., copies of monthly statements or online access to accounts), typically by use of a financial power of attorney.
  2. Create joint accounts. A joint account with someone gives them oversight as well as the ability to write checks, make investment decisions and take steps if necessary to protect the funds in the account. But make sure you only add the name of someone you really trust to the account because it can also be an avenue for financial abuse if the joint owner becomes the perpetrator.
  3. Use a revocable trust. Revocable trusts can be useful for a number of reasons in addition to probate avoidance. Your revocable trust gives someone you trust the ability to step in seamlessly if you become disabled. Unlike a joint account, it does not give the trustee any ownership interest in the account. If, for instance, you had two children but named one as a co-owner of your joint accounts, at your death she would have the legal right to keep the funds rather than share them with her sibling. That would not be the case with a revocable trust. *This is my preferred estate planning tool to protect someone who is vulnerable to financial exploitation, without requiring court intervention.
  4. Visit often. Nothing prevents financial abuse or stops it in its tracks better than frequent visits by loved ones. Remember, exploiters typically isolate their target to avoid getting caught!
  5. Get help paying bills. If someone trusted helps you pay your bills, they will help you make sure that you are not letting anything slip through cracks or paying something that you should not. Be careful to only work with someone trustworthy.
  6. Use a limited credit card. Credit cards are now available that allow another person to monitor the activity of the cardholder and to limit both the amount he spends and where he can spend it.
  7. Sign up for do not call registry. Register your telephone number with the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry either online at www.donotcall.gov or by calling 888.382.1222.
  8. Sign up for Nomorobo. You can sign up for Nomoroboto block robo calls. Unfortunately, it does not work with all telephone providers, including Verizon.
  9. Consult with an elder law attorney. An elder law attorney can help set up a revocable trust and durable power of attorney to assist with financial management, advise on the best protective steps to take in each situation and provide additional oversight to discourage financial abuse. We can help if you are in Arizona, Outside Arizona you may wish to find an elder law attorney at www.naela.org.
  10. Opt out of mail solicitations. At www.dmachoice.org the Direct Marketing Association permits you to limit the amount of catalogs, credit card offers and other direct mail pieces you or a loved one receives.