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Professional Fiduciary Services for Seniors

Professional Fiduciary Services - Protecting Vulnerable Older Adults from Exploitation

by Don Drake, Connelly Law Offices, Ltd. 5.13.24

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Attorney RJ Connelly III

"Studies have demonstrated that professional fiduciaries and money managers can help seniors remain at home longer and avoid costly out-of-home expenses," stated professional fiduciary and certified elder law Attorney RJ Connelly III. "These professionals are responsible for ensuring that bills are paid on time, checks are deposited, taxes are paid, checkbooks are balanced, and insurance payments are kept current. By providing these services, seniors can avoid eviction, loss of medical coverage, foreclosure, utility shutoffs, credit problems, and identify any financial fraud that may be occurring."

In our last blog, we delved into the story of Ann, a mother whose grown-up son struggled with substance abuse and resorted to illegal activities, including exploiting his mother's finances to fuel his addiction. In today's blog, we will explore various ways vulnerable adults can fall prey to financial exploitation from family members and outside sources. Further, we will highlight the importance of professional fiduciary services in safeguarding against such exploitation and protecting the interests of vulnerable adults.

Joan's Story

Joan arrived at the office looking worn out and drained. As she settled in, she started sharing her frustration and anxiety about her mother's financial problems. Joan's mother had been giving out her checking account number to some phone solicitors who were now charging her almost a hundred dollars monthly for several products and services. Joan felt exasperated as this had been a recurring issue with her mother. Last month, she was charged for pillows; the month before, that was for some charity Joan had never heard of.

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Joan found multiple problems in the bank account

Joan's father passed away in 2015, and since then, her mother, who had worked as a nurse at a local hospital before retiring, has been managing the household and finances alone. Joan thought everything was under control and spoke to her mother daily. Her mother often complained that she called too much and should focus on her husband and children. She said that if she needed anything, she would let Joan know and that she should stop worrying.

However, things took a drastic turn last summer when Joan received a call from the emergency room. Her mother was at the hospital, suffering from dehydration. When Joan arrived at the hospital, her mother told her that her power was shut off, and she didn't know why. It was a hot week, and Joan's mother had no air conditioning, yet she never called to tell Joan. When Joan went to her mother's house, she found the heat stifling and months of electric bills, cable bills, and insurance premium invoices stuffed into a drawer in the kitchen. It was shocking how quickly things had changed.

Since that incident, Joan has been spending more time at her mother's house, ensuring everything is paid for, monitoring her bank accounts, calling about lost credit or ATM cards, and ensuring deposits are made. She spent more time after work on her mother's financial issues than on her own family's expenses.

Joan's situation is becoming increasingly common as adult children nationwide care for their parents' finances. Their aging parents' ability to manage household expenses has been affected, and in some cases, outsiders have been able to exploit them financially.

"Despite being able to live independently, my mother can't stay on top of the everyday issues of paying bills or monitoring her own money," Joan said. "Given the scams that seem to pop up on the news daily, I'm afraid she could be wiped out financially before I even find out about it!"

An Increasing Problem in Gray America

The United States Census Bureau has reported a significant rise in older Americans aged 80 and above over the past decade. The number increased by 20% between 2000 and 2010, resulting in a median age increase of nearly two years, from 35.3 to 37.2. This demographic trend is largely attributable to the aging of the baby boomer generation, with the first set reaching the age of 65 in 2011. As of the 2010 census, there were over forty million people in the country aged sixty-five and older, expected to reach seventy-two million by 2030.

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The graying of America continues

"The increase in the number of seniors has brought with it corresponding costs for nursing and senior living care, making it essential from a social and economic standpoint to enable those who can live independently to stay in their homes," stated Attorney Connelly. "Nonetheless, this poses a challenge in ensuring their financial safety and protection from exploitation."

Professional fiduciaries and daily money management services have emerged as key solutions to this challenge. These services are often called the most important job you have never heard about.

Fiduciaries and money managers also help alleviate burdens on caregivers. For example, in Joan's case, the manager provided the necessary support to ensure that Joan's finances were in order and she could focus on caring for her mother.

Another significant benefit of daily money management services is that they help protect seniors from financial scams and other forms of abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse has reported that these services have been instrumental in saving many seniors from the loss of their savings and other assets. Fiduciaries and money managers review bank and credit card statements and are trained to identify fraudulent activities.

In addition to seniors, money management services can benefit other groups. Individuals with physical issues such as poor eyesight, arthritis, or Parkinson's disease can benefit from these services. People with attention deficit disorder who have difficulty organizing their affairs can also benefit from daily money management services. Busy professionals who do not have the time or the desire to manage their finances can also benefit from these services.

The Need to Monitor Seniors' Accounts

Managing the finances of a senior or a loved one with special needs should not be entrusted to just anyone. Increasingly, families have been seeking external assistance to aid in this regard, based on recommendations from acquaintances or friends, without necessarily being aware of the individual's background. Regrettably, such an approach has resulted in dire consequences for some. Considering this, it is essential to exercise caution when selecting an individual to manage the finances of a senior or a loved one with special needs.

Financial fraud has skyrocketed, with many instances occurring in southern New England. It is crucial to hire financial experts to keep track of expenses, especially when external caregivers are involved in caring for a cherished family member. The following are a few examples of cases that have surfaced locally.

Westport, Connecticut - According to a report by News12 in Connecticut, a 92-year-old resident of Westport hired a home health aide to provide care services. However, the aide in question and her boyfriend, who are both from Hartford, allegedly took advantage of the elderly victim by embezzling $129,180.75 from her brokerage accounts. The victim's daughter reported that $200 cash was missing from her mother's purse, and another $50 was taken from a birthday card the victim gave to the other aide. The daughter also reported irregular charges on her mother's Costco Visa Card and Jet Blue Mastercard, which totaled almost $800.

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Fairfield, CT - A home health aide was caught stealing from elderly clients for whom she was supposed to provide care. The accused was charged with two counts of theft. The police have used a video as crucial evidence to build their case against her. In the video, the woman can be seen rummaging through a drawer, searching for something until she finally finds an envelope. She then removes the money inside, and the cash is visible in her hand as she leaves the house.

Brockton, Massachusetts - ABC 6 News in Providence reported that District Attorney Kevin Hayden charged a 41-year-old personal care assistant from Brockton with defrauding a 95-year-old woman of approximately $150,000. She faces a single count of medical assistance fraud and larceny over $1,200 by a single scheme. Her alleged actions include stealing money from the elderly woman's bank account, collecting rent meant for the victim, and taking out a reverse mortgage on the victim's home. 

Fall River, Massachusetts - A 61-year-old resident of the city was found guilty of embezzling more than $120,000 from an elderly woman she had been hired to provide care for. The victim, aged ninety-seven at the time, suffered from blindness and deafness and had limited ability to communicate. As a companion and part-time caregiver, she was entrusted with the care of the vulnerable woman. Unfortunately, she took advantage of the situation and used her position of trust to steal a substantial amount of money from her victim.

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Little Compton, Rhode Island - The East Bay, Rhode Island website reported that A female caregiver from Providence was taken into custody on fraud charges after allegedly attempting to defraud a client in Little Compton last week. The victim was almost scammed out of a total of $9,000. The accused surrendered to the Little Compton Police Department and was charged with exploitation of an elder, larceny, forgery/counterfeiting, and obtaining property by false pretenses. Another certified caregiver who worked for the same in-home senior caregiving service identified her as a suspect and informed the authorities.

The victim and the accused visited BayCoast Bank in Westport, where they withdrew $300 via a teller and another $300 from an ATM, utilizing the victim's PIN. At a BayCoast Bank branch in Cranston, she also cashed a $3,500 check. The accused tried to cash another check for $4,800 through an online service, but the check was flagged as fraudulent and not processed.

Pawtucket, Rhode Island - An 82-year-old resident of Pawtucket was recently a victim of exploitation by her certified nursing assistant. The victim, who is afflicted with dementia and a physical disability, incurred a total loss estimated to be more than $42,000 due to the caregiver's theft. This situation was highlighted when the victim's son noticed a significant reduction in her account balance in November. "The account went from $50,000 to $15,000. We contacted the bank, they investigated the matter and discovered that the nursing placement company's employee had withdrawn cash from the ATM using the debit card," he said in an interview with WJAR television.

When hiring individuals to provide elderly care, agencies typically perform background checks to ensure the safety and well-being of their clients. However, such checks may not always be foolproof, as there are numerous ways through which candidates may conceal information from employers. For instance, reference checks may be subject to fraud, with acquaintances posing as past employers to provide positive recommendations.

Similarly, financial data can be fabricated, and candidates may have criminal histories despite the absence of prior convictions. As such, agencies must remain vigilant in their screening processes and implement additional measures to minimize the risk of hiring unsuitable candidates. A professional fiduciary or money manager can monitor these accounts and catch any discrepancies.

A Final Word

Attorney Connelly stated that fiduciary services, particularly for seniors, are an essential service that is much needed in our aging society. However, clients must be wary of potential swindlers who claim to be money managers but are only after the seniors' money rather than managing it. Regrettably, the lack of government oversight in this relatively new field makes it imperative that clients conduct their due diligence when selecting a reputable fiduciary, daily money manager, or organization that provides these services to themselves or their loved ones.

"The engagement of quality professionals to provide services to seniors or those with special needs is of utmost importance, and it is the primary objective of Connelly Law Offices to offer fiduciary clients and their families peace of mind," expressed Attorney Connelly. "Our firm has a compassionate team of fiduciary professionals who regularly work with seniors and people with special needs, and we are steadfast in our commitment to managing their finances effectively and responsibly."

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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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