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Gambling and Seniors Part 5 - Treatment and Beyond

Gambling and Seniors Part 5 - Treatment, Recovery and Beyond

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. 3.24.24

Fiduciary Rhode Island
Attorney RJ Connelly III

"As we conclude our series on problem gambling, it is imperative to acknowledge an arduous reality: the most efficacious approach to dealing with problem gambling is often to restrict an individual's access to funds," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "This approach is similar to that taken with drug addiction, where detoxification is frequently necessary before any treatment can commence. For individuals grappling with a gambling addiction, the primary step towards recovery is frequently taking command of their finances. It is an indispensable measure that must be taken. Below are a few recommendations on how to accomplish this task."

Managing Funds

In situations where a gambler is struggling with their compulsion and their access to money needs to be restricted, an attorney, fiduciary, or counselor can work with the family to develop a plan. This plan will ensure that the gambler can only access a limited budget for their daily needs, which are reviewed weekly with their cooperation. This weekly review aims to identify any discrepancies that may arise, such as the gambler accessing funds from other sources. By monitoring their spending closely, the family and their legal counsel or fiduciary can help prevent the gambler from falling further into debt and depression.


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Limit access to funds

Asset Transfers

If you find a loved one in a situation where compulsive gambling is taking a toll on their finances, some measures can be taken to prevent further losses. One of the more invasive methods, but also potentially necessary, is to initiate the process of transferring assets into a different family member's name. However, it's important to remember that this can be a complicated legal and tax process, so it's best to weigh the pros and cons before proceeding. It's also worth noting that this approach can potentially lead to family conflict and strained relationships, so it's essential to approach the situation carefully and openly.

Neutral Party 

If it has reached a point where a financial intervention is necessary, it is recommended to seek the assistance of an impartial third party, like a professional fiduciary or an attorney with financial expertise, to manage the compulsive gambler's finances and provide oversight. This approach can help avoid any potential family conflicts that may arise.

However, before taking any action, it is crucial to ensure that all family members agree on addressing the gambler's problem. This is a critical first step towards recovery but can also be uncomfortable. Nevertheless, this step must be taken if there is any hope of stopping the financial losses.

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Consider a neutral party

The person who decides to take charge of this process must make it clear to all family members that this action is a last resort intended to protect the gambler's long-term financial well-being. It is important to understand the possible consequences if the gambling behavior continues and debts accumulate.

If the gambler is an older family member or retiree, it is crucial to emphasize that their remaining years should be as comfortable as possible. If there is no estate plan, discuss the need to create one and why it is essential.

Once everyone is on the same page, a meeting with the gambler and their partner (if applicable) should be arranged in a supportive manner, without any negative attitude. Accusations, anger, or guilt-tripping will only foster resentment and resistance, making communication and resolution more difficult. Therefore, it is essential to approach the situation with care and thoughtfulness.

Don't Believe the TV Hype

Clinicians know that interventions fail far more often than they succeed and do not live up to the expectations portrayed on television shows that feature such actions. Discussions like this are best held in a small, intimate group with emotions left at the door. This is easier said than done but if such a meeting becomes too emotionally charged, the gambler will feel attacked and respond with defensiveness and anger. The gambler, like someone with a drug addiction, is keenly aware of what is wrong yet has built up walls of defensiveness and rationalization to hide their guilt and actions. Slapping them in the face with what they already know is bad does not work. There can be treatment success, but it requires commitment, hard work, cooperation, and difficult choices. 

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Interventions are not always successful

Positive vs Negative

When discussing financial control with a gambler, it's important to focus on the positive aspects of taking charge rather than the negative consequences of not doing so. Adopting a positive approach makes the gambler more likely to be receptive to the idea and avoid feeling defensive. Instead of conveying the message as "We have to take control of your finances because we don't trust you," you could say, "Taking control of your finances while you receive help will eliminate any temptation to gamble with the money, allowing you to concentrate on your treatment and recovery." This way, you're offering support and encouragement that can make a significant difference in the gambler's journey to recovery.

They Must Be Part of the Solution

During this meeting, it's important to focus on breaking down the gambler's defensiveness. It's best to take a collaborative approach rather than adopting an adversarial stance to achieve this. By working together as a team, you'll have a greater chance of finding common ground everyone can accept and setting achievable goals. This approach will help create a more positive and productive environment for the gambler and the team.

Employ a Neutral Voice

By bringing in a neutral third party, you can benefit from an objective perspective that is not swayed by emotions or personal relationships. Instead, you'll receive an assessment of your situation from a business standpoint, which can help you make informed decisions and navigate the situation with greater clarity and confidence.

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Choose words carefully

Choose Your Words Carefully

When discussing a gambler's behaviors, it is vital to avoid over-generalizations. Using words such as "always" or "never" can be misleading and exaggerate the situation. For instance, saying, "You always spend your social security check at the casino" or "The bills are never paid on time" may be inaccurate. While it is true the gambler may spend a significant amount of their check at the casino or struggle to pay bills on time, this behavior may not occur every single time. Using less extreme language and sticking to the facts makes having a more productive conversation with the gambler easier. Additionally, avoiding accusatory language can help prevent the gambler from feeling defensive and allow for a more open and honest dialogue.

Other Language to Avoid

Be mindful of the words and phrases during important meetings or conversations. One term that often causes chaos and misunderstanding is the word "claims". It can be interpreted as an accusation, making the person referred to feel defensive and uneasy. A better way to communicate the same message is using "says". For example, instead of saying, "Jane claims that she did not go to the casino," it's better to say, "Jane says that she did not go to the casino." This simple change in wording can eliminate the underlying judgment and prevent unnecessary conflicts.

Another phrase to avoid is "You need to...". This phrase can be interpreted as bossy and demanding, putting the other person on the defensive. Instead, it's better to use "I need you to...", which conveys what you want without sounding domineering.

Similarly, phrases like "You should..." and "You must..." can be condescending and patronizing. It's important to remember how it feels when someone speaks to us in such a way and try to avoid doing the same to others. Being mindful of our language can create a more positive and productive atmosphere in these meetings and conversations.

Professional Fiduciary/Daily Money Management

Studies have shown that daily money managers can be an excellent asset for seniors who have a gambling problem. However, not all money managers are created equal. When seniors have accumulated substantial debt, searching for a professional fiduciary who offers daily money management services is advisable. Daily money managers alone may not have the expertise to deal with the debt issues that arise from problem gambling.

So, what exactly do daily money managers do? Their primary responsibility is to ensure that bills are paid on time, checks are deposited, taxes are paid, checkbooks are balanced, and insurance payments are updated. These services can help those with gambling problems avoid eviction, loss of medical coverage, foreclosure, utility shutoffs, and other credit problems. Money managers also oversee accounts and spending and can catch unapproved withdrawals and expenditures.

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Seek a professional fiduciary for assistance

According to Attorney Connelly, "It makes sense to use a professional fiduciary who manages daily money for seniors who may have a history of problem gambling. What professional fiduciaries can do is provide the kind of oversight needed when helping a problem gambler or their family develop a financial plan that best meets the needs of the problem gambler in recovery. The daily money management services offered provide various services that can help keep the client safe."

However, not everyone is suitable for managing a senior's finances, especially those with a gambling problem. Attorney Connelly further states, "This service is needed in our aging society. But as with all things, clients must be aware that some people who claim to be money managers may be out to take a senior's money rather than manage it. Unfortunately, because this is a new field, there is no government oversight of daily money managers. Hiring the wrong person on top of losses caused by gambling can create an insurmountable problem for a senior."

Therefore, it is imperative to do your due diligence when hiring someone to provide fiduciary or daily money management services. According to the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), an excellent place to find a trusted money-managing professional is by contacting the American Association of Daily Money Managers (AADMM). The national organization sets standards of practice for its seven hundred members, who must abide by a strict Code of Ethics under all state and federal laws and adhere to their principles, which can be found on their website.

It is also advisable to consider hiring a professional fiduciary. Professional fiduciaries are responsible for providing financial services to ensure their client's dignity and peace of mind. They possess the expertise, resources, and knowledge required to oversee diverse services such as bill payments, legal matters, investment management, and trust management, among other responsibilities.

Professional fiduciaries are licensed and regulated professionals bound by a strict code of ethics. They must complete specific courses mandated by the licensing bureau, pass a comprehensive exam, participate in ongoing education, undergo a thorough background check, and be bondable.

A Final Word

As we wrap up our series of blogs on problem gambling, we know that recognizing problem gambling in seniors is complicated and getting them into treatment can be even more of a problem. Most are reluctant to admit to their addiction and the shame that they live with can be overwhelming – especially if they have lived a life without any other blemishes.

In most cases, the problem becomes apparent only after financial problems have surfaced. At that point, they usually face many issues that may include foreclosure, utility shutoffs, and medical and mental health concerns. Complicating this issue even further is age and conditions like dementia that may be present. So immediate and comprehensive action is required.

“This is an issue that will become a major problem in the years to come,” said Attorney Connelly. “As the baby boomers age, they are bringing with them problems like drug addictions and sexually transmitted diseases, issues that were once reserved for younger adults. With the proliferation of casinos and online gaming, a rapid rise in problem gambling among seniors is occurring. This is something we cannot ignore. It can end in a loved one losing their home or becoming so overwhelmed with debt that they may never be able to dig out, which can lead to physical and mental health issues. That's not how we want our seniors to end their lives."

In our series on gambling and seniors, our goal was to shed some light on this critical topic so we may help raise awareness and encourage those struggling with problem gambling to seek the support they need. Additional help can be found by going to the National Council on Problem Gambling site where you can find help in whatever state you live in.

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Please note that the information provided in this blog is not intended to and should not be construed as legal, financial, or medical advice. The content, materials, and information presented in this blog are solely for general informational purposes and may not be the most up-to-date information available regarding legal, financial, or medical matters. This blog may also contain links to other third-party websites that are included for the convenience of the reader or user. Please note that Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. does not necessarily recommend or endorse the contents of such third-party sites. If you have any particular legal matters, financial concerns, or medical issues, we strongly advise you to consult your attorney, professional fiduciary advisor, or medical provider.

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