Editor’s Note: I have a personal interest in the following article on the subject of elder abuse, not only because I hope to live long enough to be elderly myself some day, but also because my mother — when she was in her mid-eighties, recently widowed, and living alone in a suburb of Paradise, California — answered a knock on her door one day from a Kirby Vacuum Cleaner salesman, who had driven thirty miles up the mountain road from his office in Chico to ply his trade in her upscale mostly-elderly neighborhood. She told me later (too late to revoke the deal, unfortunately) that “he seemed angry, and I was afraid if I didn’t buy a vacuum cleaner, he wouldn’t leave.” She bought an $1800 Kirby Vacuum Cleaner that was too heavy for her, in her frail condition, to even push. She never used it, and we inherited it when she died. Some months after she bought it, I spoke to the manager of the Kirby Chico office and asked him whether he had trouble sleeping at night. He denied that they were doing anything wrong by focusing their sales efforts in such neighborhoods. Paradise requires door-to-door salesmen to register with the Paradise Police Department. When I called the PPD to check on the status of Kirby’s license, long after my mother died, Kirby had no active permit. I have no idea whether they are still selling vacuum cleaners in Paradise. The following article focuses on the financial aspects of elder abuse, and how to prevent it.
Reprinted from the California Progress Report (October 11, 2011)
By Norine Boehmer, CLPF, and Lori Hefner, CLPF
Elder financial abuse is the wrongful taking of money or property and is costing seniors nearly $3 billion a year according to a recent study. This problem is on the rise, striking one in four seniors in the U.S. Sadly, seniors are typically being taken advantage of by someone close to them such as a neighbor, family member, or caregiver.
Unscrupulous caregivers have come up with ingenious ways to take advantage of unsuspecting seniors. Most recently, a caregiver would play a game with her ward, Donna LeBoeuf, who suffers from early stage dementia. She’d have her scribble her signature on pieces of paper. What she didn’t know was that by playing this “game,” she ended up signing away control of her finances and medical decisions…all to someone to whom she thought was looking out for her best interest.
Scenarios like this one are all too familiar, and with the senior population expected to double by 2030, that situation could get worse…much worse. Luckily for LeBoeuf, some key individuals got involved to ensure she was no longer being victimized. This case was exposed when three California Licensed Professional Fiduciaries stepped in to investigate. My co-writer, Lori Hefner, in partnership with the late Kathaleen Radke, discovered the wrong doing and wrote a complaint to several agencies on behalf of five victims. Following the complaint, Professional Fiduciary David Hanks was brought in on two of the cases and he provided the forensic accounting that detailed the extent of the thefts. Today, the caregiver involved in the cases has been charged with four felonies and one misdemeanor count of financial elder abuse and is currently awaiting trial.
While LeBoeuf was saved from financial ruin, many seniors aren’t so lucky. Unfortunately, many seniors give Powers of Attorney to individuals they do not know and who are not licensed.
The key to stopping elder financial abuse is to be an advocate for your loved ones. Understand who you are working with and make sure they are licensed. Professional Fiduciaries play a unique and vital role in today’s society – serving everyone from those who can no longer care for themselves, to independent, productive people who need assistance making sound financial, health care and day-to-day decisions. Fiduciaries serve as a bridge between a client and his/her family, health care providers, caregivers, and attorneys, while protecting both physical and financial interests.
To better protect oneself or a loved one, there are important questions that should be asked before signing over Powers of Attorney or hiring a fiduciary when you need help making day to day decisions. Questions such as:
• Are you licensed in the State of California? If so, please provide a copy of your current license
• How long have you been practicing, and what is your background and expertise in the field?
• What is your specialty?
• What is the amount of assets under your control?
• Can you provide me with a resume and references?
The Professional Fiduciary Association of California (PFAC) is working hard to protect seniors and other vulnerable individuals against financial elder abuse. PFAC was a key player in the original passage of the 2006 Professional Fiduciaries Act, which established the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau (PFB), a license and disciplinary body that oversees abuses and regulates the profession.
Consumers can learn more information about the profession, including what to look for when choosing a fiduciary, a referral list of PFAC members, code of ethics, complaint forms and licensure in California, by visiting www.pfac-pro.org. For additional licensing information, visit the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau website, at www.fiduciary.ca.gov.
Norine Boehmer is the President of the Professional Fiduciary Association of California, who practices in Los Angeles, CA and Lori Hefner is a licensed fiduciary from Pleasant Hill, CA.