In a previous article, we shared steps to understanding your parents’ estate planning and the nature of their assets, as well as how to ensure you’re not left with a mess when something happens to them.
To expound upon that, today we’ll be taking a closer look at a major risk of not being in the loop when it comes to your parent’s Wills and Trusts planning matters: the undue influence of bad actors.
Sadly, predators emerge during times of upheaval to take advantage of people and that means the COVID-19 pandemic can leave your parents vulnerable in more ways than one. Keep in mind that even when things go back to normal this exploitation will still be a potential threat to your parents.
Unfortunately we see it happen far too often. Maybe your elderly parents live several hours away or in another state or country. Then someone in their community gets close to them or maybe they have a close relationship with a financial advisor who isn’t really looking out for their best interests. This person could even be another family member, friend, business partner, hired caregiver, professional advisor, or someone they’ve just met.
Loss of money is not the only risk when a bad actor comes into play. Personal freedom could also be at stake. One of the worst cases of this I’ve heard of is the case of Milo, a retired veteran living in Arizona, and his son Greg, who lived in Northern California. It all started when Milo asked Greg to help him protect his small amount of money from a family member who was “borrowing” it freely. All Milo had was a savings of $140,000 and payments of $3,700 per month from social security, a pension, and veteran’s benefits.
To help his father out, Greg applied for guardianship of Milo’s money and the court granted it to him. At the same time, without notifying Greg, the court appointed a professional financial Conservator that neither Milo nor Greg knew. The Conservator quickly set to draining Milo’s small savings with the court barring Greg from filing any more motions.
Then the Conservator decided to move Milo from his assisted living facility to a cheap lock-down facility where he wouldn’t even have access to the outdoors to free up more money for the Conservator to access. Before this could happen, though, Greg hurried to pick his father up and bring him back to California with him.
Now, the two are essentially on-the-run from authorities who are trying to bring Milo back to Arizona and under the control of the Conservator. Milo and Greg are out of funds and are now trying to raise the $15,000 it would take to hire a lawyer and free Milo from this terrible situation.
The scariest part is that Milo and Greg had all the proper legal documents in place. Sometimes, though, that is not enough to protect your parents from being taken advantage of, especially in a time of stress and confusion like the COVID-19 pandemic we are currently living in. That’s why it is vital to be vigilant and get the best possible counsel to avoid something like this happening.
This isn’t meant to make you paranoid or distrustful of the people around you or of how your parents handle their own lives. Mostly it’s a call to encourage you and your family to be aware, educated, and empowered in knowing what risks are possible for your parents and for your future inheritance.
Look out for the following actions we have seen from bad actors:
- Preventing important communication between family members;
- Withholding documents from other family members;
- Encouraging financial gifts or economic benefits to recently-met connections (usually in the same network as your parents’ “new friend”);
- Naming recently-met connections as attorney-in-fact (under a financial power of attorney), or as a joint owner on financial accounts, real estate, and other assets;
- Giving financial advice that may not be in your or your parents’ best interests, but rather in the interests of the advisor.
We recommend you start talking with your parents now about how they want their affairs to be handled and you should immediately investigate any situation where you suspect your loved ones are being taken advantage of. There have been too many cases of financial abuse or inappropriate influence where family members are too late to stop the bad actor.
Ideally, you know the value of your parents’ tangible assets (i.e.,home, car, business, stocks) and intangible assets (i.e., generational stories, personal relationships, theological legacies). Additionally, you should be working with an advisor to help you understand how family dynamics and the law will impact you, and everything that matters to you and your parents, when they’re gone.
If you’d like our assistance in considering your parents’ affairs, and how you can be in a position to support them when they need you, contact us. We, as your Personal Family Lawyer®, can help.
This article is a service of Levi Alexander, Personal Family Lawyer®. We don’t just draft documents; we ensure you make informed and empowered decisions about life and death, for yourself and the people you love. That’s why we offer a Family Wealth Planning Session,™ during which you will get more financially organized than you’ve ever been before, and make all the best choices for the people you love. You can begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Wealth Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.