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personal services contracts

Personal Services Contracts in Florida.

Personal Services Contracts in Florida.

When people are looking to protect assets from the costs of long-term care in Florida, one popular option is the concept of a personal services contract. This article discusses legal ways to protect assets in the event your elder needs long-term care Medicaid. Long-term care Medicaid can help pay for the cost of care at home, in assisted living, or in a nursing home.The goal in creating eligibility for long-term Medicaid generally involves legally reducing the assets to $2,000.00 for a single person or around $140,000 for a couple.  In creating Medicaid, we cannot give money away as this creates a Medicaid transfer penalty. So if we cannot give money away, how can we create Medicaid eligibility while protecting assets? One legal way to do this is to pay a caregiver for future services for the elder in advance.  This is generally referred to as a personal services contract.A personal service contract is an agreement between a caregiver (who can be a family member) and the elder to provide him or her with personal care services for his or her lifetime. This is a lump sum transfer of assets to the caregiver(s) in exchange for their contractual promise of care. As long as the transaction is for fair market value and is legally binding, the government cannot disqualify the applicant for Medicaid long-term care benefits as the transfer is not a gift, it is a payment for services.  Remember that we cannot give away money (or other assets) to receive Medicaid eligibility, but the applicant is allowed to hire someone to help them out within reasonable parameters.  Personal services contracts have been used for years in Florida and have been tested in the Florida appellate court as a valid tool for valid Medicaid “spend down” planning.The services provided by the caregiver generally includes bill payments, talking to doctors, grooming needs, visitation, hospital advocacy, etc., that the nursing home or assisted living facility does not generally provide. The caregiver is essentially getting paid to help the elder receive better care than he or she would receive without an advocate in such a facility.

The payment amount is calculated by the elder’s life expectancy, the amount of work expected and the hourly rate.  A typical example of this calculation is as follows:

Mom is 85 years old and in the nursing home. She has $50,000 in her bank accounts. We want to create eligibility for Medicaid and she has a caregiver who is able and willing to assist her.  Mom’s life expectancy according to the Florida Department of Children and Families is 6.62 years.  If the caregiver is able to work ten (10) hours per week advocating for Mom, which we would deem reasonable under the circumstances, we could pay the caregiver $35/hour (or less).  With this calculation, we would be able to pay a caregiver around $120,484 for his or her expected services (10 hours/week x 52 weeks/year x $35/hour x 6.62 years = $120,484.00). Since Mom only has $50,000 in assets, we could legally pay the caregiver a $50,000 lump sum to create Medicaid eligiblity and reduce her assets to less than $2,000. In this example, this is all done with assistance and guidance from a good elder law attorney.

There are a few items to note in this example:

  • It may be reasonable to pay a caregiver $35/hour in some, maybe not all cases, depending on the work the caregiver provides. The caregiver may be acting in more than just a caregiver role. For instance, the caregiver may provide physical service (checking in on the patient/elder, helping with hygiene issues) while also may provide some things that are closer to a guardianship role (such as bill paying and other legal responsibilities). So we may be able to justify a higher hourly rate in some circumstances, which is very important
  • Personal services contract are very exact and would only be done under certain circumstances with attorney consultation
  • The caregiver will have income tax issues in getting a lump-sum payment
  • The caregiver may need to get consent from Mom’s family/other children as this may disrupt Mom’s estate plan
  • The Personal Services Contract, and all spend down, is documented to the Department of Children and Families, so this is all disclosed to Medicaid as part of the application process
  • The Department of Children and Families reviews the contract, pay rate and the hours as a part of the Medicaid application
  • Each situation is different so an elder law attorney will review all options for correct Medicaid “spend down” planning

We typically look to personal services contracts as a part of spend down planning for single people. Medicaid rules are different between a married couple and a single person, so there may be other (i.e., better) legal ways to protect assets for a married couple.

Explain This Again?

The use of a personal services contract is most likely used in “crisis Medicaid planning,” where the elder is already in a nursing home or the elder needs imminent long-term care Medicaid (such as in-home or assisted living Medicaid). In the above example, Mom is in the nursing home and will be private paying for care when her Medicare/health insurance ends (if she had a 3 day qualifying hospital stay before going to rehabilitation).  Mom has money that would otherwise disappear to the cost of long-term care as the nursing home costs over $10,000/month on private pay. Since her money will be spent very quickly without Medicaid paying for long-term care, the family will want to discuss how to best spend Mom’s money to get Medicaid qualification (for Medicaid to pay for her care faster). The personal services contract will help legally spend her funds down to less than $2,000, so she will qualify for Medicaid sooner with an elder law attorney’s assistance.

Read more related articles here:

Personal Service Contracts. Medicaidplanning.org

37.104 Personal services contracts.

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

Personal Care Agreements

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.

Senior Benefits

Are You Missing Out on Benefits? Find Programs You Can Use!

Are You Missing Out on Benefits? Find Programs You Can Use!

BenefitsCheckUp, the National Council on Aging’s online resource, helps elders identify the federal and state assistance programs for which they are qualified. The database is free to access, and the National Council on Aging ensures personal information people enter into the website remains confidential.

The resource provides older people not only with individualized reports of the assistance programs that cover them, but also the details they may need on each program before applying, including contact information for the agencies administering the assistance.

How to Obtain an Eligibility Results Report

To get personalized Eligibility Results detailing the benefits programs to which you may apply, enter your information into the database on the BenefitsCheckUp website, starting with your ZIP code. Then select the programs that interest you, which offer support on any number of services, including:

  • Health care and medication
  • Food and nutrition
  • Housing and utilities
  • Aging in place and in-home care
  • Income
  • Disability services
  • Long-term care, such as skilled nursing facilities
  • Discounts and activities
  • Tax help
  • Crisis, legal, and general assistance
  • Veterans’ programs

Once you enter details such as your date of birth and marital status, BenefitsCheckUp generates a report outlining the specific programs accessible to you, and identifies what other information each program requires.

The Eligibility Results reports have several user-friendly features:

  • If you make errors filling in details or want to provide additional information, the website allows you to go back and revise your answers.
  • After the website creates an individualized Eligibility Results report, you can save it as a PDF and email it to yourself or a loved one.

Family and Caregivers Can Use BenefitsCheckUp to Assist Their Loved Ones

Family members or caregivers of older adults can also use BenefitsCheckUp to help their loved ones learn about benefits programs. They can enter an individual’s information into the website on their behalf and get a report, which they can use to support their loved ones in applying for state or federal benefits.

This easy-to-use resource can help older adults and their families alleviate the stress associated with applying to state and federal benefits programs.

Read more related articles here:

Older Americans miss out on billions of dollars in benefits as inflation takes a toll

Millions of Older Adults Are Missing Out on Benefits

Also, read one of our previous Blogs here:

Elder Law Estate Planning for the Future

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.


POA-Healthcare Proxy

Avoid Disagreements Between Your Power of Attorney Holder and Health Care Proxy

Avoid Disagreements Between Your Power of Attorney Holder and Health Care Proxy

A durable power of attorney and a health care proxy are two important but different estate planning documents.  Both allow other people to make decisions for you in the event you are incapacitated.  Because the individuals chosen will have to coordinate care with your income and resources, it is important to pick two people who can  get along.A power of attorney allows a person you appoint – your agent or “attorney-in-fact” – to act in your place for financial purposes when and if you ever become incapacitated.  A health care proxy (sometimes called a health care power of attorney or advance directive) is a document that gives an agent the authority to make health care decisions for you if you are unable to communicate such decisions.

While the health care proxy is the one who makes the health care decisions, the person who holds the power of attorney is the one who needs to pay for the health care.  If the two agents disagree, it can spell trouble.  For example, suppose your health care agent decides that you need 24-hour care at home, but your power of attorney thinks a nursing home is the best option and refuses to pay for the at-home care.  Any disagreements would have to be settled by a court, taking  time and draining your family’s resources in the process.

The easiest way to avoid conflicts is to choose the same person to do both jobs.  But this may not always be feasible – for example, perhaps the person you would choose as health care proxy is not good with finances.  If you pick different people for both roles, then you should think about picking two people who can get along and work together.  You should also talk to both agents about your wishes for medical care so that they both understand what you want.

The next easiest way is anticipate and plan for the conflict by giving someone the power to settle disputes.  This person should be named in the papers and could be anyone other than the named agents.  The person should be authorized to consult with all the stakeholders (the family members, etc.) and then given specific authority to direct that in the case of dispute, one agent or the other will prevail.  Many disputes are probably avoided by knowing that this power exists: one need not see the dog to have second thoughts when the sign shouts to beware the canine.

Finally, it’s useful for everyone to consider what might happen when dementia or some other disorder takes over for the person giving and getting authority.  Especially when one spouse appoints another, age will be a factor to consider.  Careful writers will consider including  language to override protests in health care proxies (in Virginia, to avoid civil commitment hearings, Virginia Code § 54.1-2986.2.), and including alternate agents and the procedure for removal of impaired agents.

If you have questions about whom to name for these roles, or you haven’t yet executed these all-important documents, address these issues, and then talk with your attorney.  You and your family will be happy you did.

Read more related articles at:

When a Health Care Proxy and Power of Attorney Disagree

Living Wills, Health Care Proxies, & Advance Health Care Directives

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

Do I Really Need a Health Care Proxy?

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.




Nursing Home

Plan Ahead Before Seeking Nursing Home Care: Avoid Unnecessary Debt for You and Your Family

Plan Ahead Before Seeking Nursing Home Care: Avoid Unnecessary Debt for You and Your Family

Many senior citizens may need the services of a nursing home or at-home care at some point in their life. You might assume that government assistance or health insurance will step in and cover the cost if you cannot afford these services. Unfortunately, neither health insurance nor Medicare covers long-term care. Because obtaining long-term care insurance can be very expensive, Medicaid could become your only option.

Medicaid coverage is not a given, however. If you have assets or recently transferred assets, Medicaid may determine you do not qualify for coverage until a certain amount of time has passed. If this happens, you and their family can face significant medical bills. If you cannot pay, nursing homes may take you to court to get reimbursed.

What steps can you take to avoid this? First, before applying for Medicaid, get a better understanding of the timelines in your state – known as lookback periods – that can affect your eligibility. Then you can engage in proper Medicaid or asset protection planning in advance of these timeframes. A good age to begin planning is around age 65, although everyone’s situation is different.

Individual states run Medicaid programs, and every state has different rules regarding Medicaid eligibility. These programs were designed as a payor of last resort — in other words, to qualify, you must meet strict requirements. There are two primary types of Medicaid benefits: home care and skilled nursing home care.

Lookback Periods

You must submit an application to your local Medicaid office to qualify for these benefits. As part of this process, the state will look at any money or property you may have transferred within a certain lookback period. In New York, for example, this period of time will soon be 30 months for home care and 60 months for skilled nursing care.

These lookback periods can have serious consequences. If you have not engaged in appropriate asset protection planning, you may not be able to qualify for home care or nursing home care for many months. The result is that many elderly individuals must then spend down their savings and liquidate their assets to pay privately for their home care before Medicaid starts covering anything. If a person no longer has resources and is subject to a disqualification penalty period, family members may have to step in and bear these costs on their own.

So, what can you do? The answer is to start planning as soon as is practical.

Options to Explore

Speaking with an elder law attorney can help you and your loved ones explore options available to avoid you or them being personally responsible for the costs of your care.

  • Medicaid Asset Protection Trust — One common approach is placing assets in a Medicaid Asset Protection Trust. You may be able to use this to shelter various assets such as stock accounts, savings, a home with unprotected equity, and much more.
  • Pooled Income Trust — Another option you may explore is contributing income that exceeds Medicaid allowances to a Pooled Income Trust. This can allow you to qualify for Medicaid while diverting excess income to a trust that pays qualified expenses on your behalf. This will enable you to benefit from the income and not spend it on things Medicaid could have otherwise covered.
  • Spousal Refusal — Your spouse may also have options that can help you qualify for Medicaid. One such option includes exercising a right of spousal refusal — a process available in some states by which the income and assets of your spouse can be removed from consideration in your Medicaid eligibility analysis.

Finally, an attorney can help you understand if certain transfers are permissible under Medicaid rules without triggering a penalty period.

Without proper planning, individuals with assets and income exceeding specific state-set thresholds would have to spend this income and their assets on their care or exempt items before they can receive Medicaid benefits. For assistance in planning, consult with a qualified elder law attorney in your area.

Read more related articles at:

The Sobering Cost of Long-Term Care

Nursing home debt collection

Also, read one our our previous Blogs here:

Protect Your Estate from Nursing Home Costs

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.


Alzheimer's blood Test

Is it Alzheimer’s? Families want to know, and blood tests may offer answers.

Is it Alzheimer’s? Families want to know, and blood tests may offer answers. Alzheimer’s afflicts 6.5 million Americans, and for many years, the only way to get confirmation of diagnoses was through a spinal tap. Simple blood tests have now hit the market and represent a powerful tool in finding a diagnosis. The blood test can detect small amounts of abnormal proteins, including a sticky version called amyloid beta. This determines whether pathological hallmarks of Alzheimer’s are present in the brain.

“If you had asked me five years ago if we would have a blood test that could reliably detect plaques and tangles in the brain, I would have said it was unlikely,” said Gil Rabinovici, a neurologist at the University of California at San Francisco. “I am glad I was wrong about that.”

The blood tests bring hope that a transformation of Alzheimer’s research and treatment could be on the way. While the tests are primarily being used in clinical trials, they are already contributing to expedited research.  However, they are not immune to stirring controversy, leaving some doctors skeptical, debating ethical questions like, who should get the test? When is the right time? How accurate are they? Do people really want to know they have Alzheimer’s?

Biogen Inc. and Eisai Co. have partnered together on experimental drug, lecanemab, which they say significantly slowed symptoms of Alzheimer’s. This makes it the first medicine to blunt progression of dementia in a largely definitive study, which has bolstered hope for treatments that could remove amyloid plaques from the brain. If the FDA approves these treatments, the demand for these blood tests could skyrocket.

For more information see Laurie McGinley “Is it Alzheimers? Families want to know, and blood tests may offer answers”, The Washington Post, November 17, 2022

Read more related articles here:

How Is Alzheimer’s Disease Diagnosed?

Blood Testing & Genetic Testing for Alzheimer’s and / or Dementia

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

Alzheimer’s Progression Slowed by Drug in Major Trial

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.

medicaid qit

Things You Need to Know About Qualified Income Trusts

Things You Need to Know About Qualified Income Trusts


When it comes to achieving eligibility for Medicaid, some clients may not realize that in addition to certain resource limitations, they may also need to comply with income restrictions as well. These income cap restrictions could result in your client being required to establish a Qualified Income Trust.

1. When is a QIT needed?

A Qualified Income Trust (QIT) is required in those states that impose an income cap on a Medicaid applicant’s monthly income. These states require that any amount of the applicant’s monthly income that exceeds the established income cap, must pass through the QIT. For 2022, that standard figure is $2,523.00 in most states.

Map of QIT states

2. What is a QIT?

The QIT, or sometimes referred to as a Miller Trust, is an irrevocable, income-only trust that holds the income of the Medicaid applicant. The trust functions as a flow-through entity allowing the applicant’s income that exceeds the income cap, to be deposited into the QIT and used for allowable medical expenses.

3. How does the QIT work?

Once the Medicaid recipient’s monthly income has been deposited into the trust, the trustee can then withdraw those funds to pay for the recipient’s medical expenses and allowable deductions.

QIT Flowchart

4. Who are the parties to the QIT?

In order to be accepted by Medicaid, the QIT must designate the appropriate individual as each respective party to the trust as follows:

  • Settlor/Grantor
  • Trustee
  • Lifetime Beneficiary
  • Primary Beneficiary
  • Secondary Beneficiary

5. Where do I establish the QIT account?

Following the signing and execution of the trust documents, you will need to establish a trust checking account with your local bank in order to fund the QIT. The trust checking account should typically be titled similarly to the name of the trust itself such as “Qualified Income Trust of [recipient’s name].”

Once the trust checking account has been established, you will need to submit a copy of the properly executed trust document, trust checking account information and proof that arrangements have been made to deposit income into the trust on a monthly basis to Medicaid. We recommend working with an elder law attorney to submit the Medicaid application and supporting documentation.

Read more related articles here:

Qualified Income Trust Information Sheet

Florida Medicaid Income Trust

Also, read one of our previous Blogs, here:

Things to Know About a Qualified Income Trust

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.


baby boomers

As Gen X and Boomers age, they confront living alone

As Gen X and Boomers age, they confront living alone


As Gen X and Boomers age, they confront living alone. In 1960, just 13% of American households had a single occupant. But that figure has risen steadily, and today it is approaching 30%. For households headed by someone 50 or older, that figure is 36%.

Jay Miles has lived his 52 years without marriage or children, which has suited his creative ambitions as a videographer in Connecticut and, he said, his mix of “independence and stubbornness.” But he worries about who will take care of him as he gets older.

Donna Selman, a 55-year-old college professor in Illinois, is mostly grateful to be single, she said, because her mother and aunts never had the financial and emotional autonomy that she enjoys.

Mary Felder, 65, raised her children, now grown, in her row house in Philadelphia. Her home has plenty of space for one person, but upkeep is expensive on the century-old house.
Felder, Miles and Selman are members of one of the country’s fastest-growing demographic groups: people 50 and older who live alone.

In 1960, just 13% of American households had a single occupant. But that figure has risen steadily, and today it is approaching 30%. For households headed by someone 50 or older, that figure is 36%.

Nearly 26 million Americans 50 or older now live alone, up from 15 million in 2000. Older people have always been more likely than others to live by themselves, and now that age group — baby boomers and Gen Xers — makes up a bigger share of the population than at any time in the nation’s history.

The trend has also been driven by deep changes in attitudes surrounding gender and marriage. People 50-plus today are more likely than earlier generations to be divorced, separated or never married.

Women in this category have had opportunities for professional advancement, homeownership and financial independence that were all but out of reach for previous generations of older women. More than 60% of older adults living by themselves are female.

“There is this huge, kind of explosive social and demographic change happening,” said Markus Schafer, a sociologist at Baylor University who studies older populations.

In interviews, many older adults said they feel positively about their lives.

But while many people in their 50s and 60s thrive living solo, research is unequivocal that people aging alone experience worse physical and mental health outcomes and shorter life spans.

And even with an active social and family life, people in this group are generally more lonely than those who live with others, according to Schafer’s research.

In many ways, the nation’s housing stock has grown out of sync with these shifting demographics. Many solo adults live in homes with at least three bedrooms, census data shows, but find that downsizing is not easy because of a shortage of smaller homes in their towns and neighborhoods.

Compounding the challenge of living solo, a growing share of older adults — about 1 in 6 Americans 55 and older — do not have children, raising questions about how elder care will be managed in the coming decades.

“What will happen to this cohort?” Schafer asked. “Can they continue to find other supports that compensate for living alone?”

Planning for the Future

For many solo adults, the pandemic highlighted the challenges of aging.

Selman, the 55-year-old professor, lived in Terre Haute, Indiana, when COVID-19 hit. Divorced for 17 years, she said she used the enforced isolation to establish new routines to stave off loneliness and depression. She quit drinking and began regularly calling a group of female friends.

This year, she got a new job and moved to Normal, Illinois, in part because she wanted to live in a state that better reflected her progressive politics. She has met new friends at a farmers’ market, she said, and is happier than she was before the pandemic, even though she occasionally wishes she had a romantic partner to take motorcycle rides with her or just to help carry laundry up and down the stairs of her three-bedroom home.

She regularly drives 12 hours round trip to care for her parents near Detroit, an obligation that has persuaded her to put away her retirement fantasy of living near the beach, and move someday closer to her daughter and grandson, who live in Louisville, Kentucky.

“I don’t want my daughter to stress out about me,” she said.

Watching their own parents age seems to have had a profound effect on many members of Gen X, born between 1965 and 1980, who say they doubt that they can lean on the same supports that their parents did: long marriages, pensions, homes that sometimes skyrocketed in value.

When his mother died two years ago, Miles, the videographer, took comfort in moving some of her furniture into his house in New Haven, Connecticut.

“It was a coming home psychologically,” he said, allowing him to feel rooted after decades of cross-country moves and peripatetic career explorations, shifting from the music business to high school teaching to producing films for nonprofits and companies.

“I still feel pretty indestructible, foolishly or not,” he said.

Still, caring for his divorced mother made him think about his own future. She had a government pension, security he lacks. Nor does he have children.

“I can’t call my kid,” he added, “the way I used to go to my mom’s house to change light bulbs.”

His options for maintaining independence are “all terrible,” he said. “I’m totally freaked out by it.”

With Space to Spare

Living solo in homes with three or more bedrooms sounds like a luxury but, experts said, it is a trend driven less by personal choice than by the nation’s limited housing supply. Because of zoning and construction limitations in many cities and towns, there is a nationwide shortage of homes below 1,400 square feet, which has driven up the cost of the smaller units, according to research from Freddie Mac.

Forty years ago, units of less than 1,400 square feet made up about 40% of all new home construction; today, just 7% of new builds are smaller homes, despite the fact that the number of single-person households has surged.

This has made it more difficult for older Americans to downsize, as a large, aging house can often command less than what a single adult needs to establish a new, smaller home and pay for their living and health care expenses in retirement.

The constraints are especially severe for many older Black Americans, for whom the legacy of redlining and segregation has meant that homeownership has not generated as much wealth. The percentage of people living alone in large houses is highest in many low-income, historically Black neighborhoods. In those areas, many homes are owned by single, older women.

One of them is Felder of Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood in Philadelphia. She and her ex-husband bought their two-story brick row house in the mid-1990s for a song after it was damaged in a fire.

While raising three children, Felder worked a series of jobs, including retail, hotel housekeeping and airport security. She retired in 2008 and has lived by herself for more than a decade, although her sisters, children and grandchildren live nearby.

But in September, living alone became harder.

While she was cleaning the trash out of a nearby alley with neighbors, a masked gunman looked her in the eyes and shot her twice in the legs.

Felder had no clue who shot her, and there has been no arrest. She recovered at her daughter’s home across town, where the ground floor has a bedroom and bathroom, unlike in her own house.

By late November, she was feeling much better — physically, if not mentally, she said. But she had not stayed overnight in her own home. She is still a little afraid.

“But I’m working on it,” she said. “I really love my house.”

Read more related articles at:

The 2030 Problem: Caring for Aging Baby Boomers

What years are Gen X? What about baby boomers? When each generation was born.

Also, read one of our previous Blogs here:

Keeping the “Boom” out of Baby Boomers’ Estate Planning


Elder Abuse

Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Financial Exploitation.

Elder Abuse Neglect and Financial Exploitation

How to Report Elder Abuse in Florida

To report elder abuse by phone, call the Florida Department of Elder Affairs 24/7 at 1.800.962.2873 (800.96.ABUSE). Press 2 to report suspected neglect, exploitation, or abuse of the elderly.

To report elder abuse online, click “Report Abuse Online NOW

You will be asked to provide details on the alleged incidents, people involved, and other relevant information.

Reporting elder abuse can be done completely confidentially.

Elder Abuse: The Role of DCF

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF)Division of Adult Protective Services screens and investigates all reports of elder abuse (1-800-96-ABUSE or 1-800-962-2873). Click on the link for multiple ways to report elder abuse. While almost 20% of Florida’s population is over the age of 65, DCF investigates claims of abuse of caregivers too, not only, vulnerable adults, but all those with special needs as well (e.g. autism, intellectual disabilities, blindness, ambulatory difficulties, traumatic brain injury victims and others who are unable to fully take care of themselves).

‍Important Elder Abuse Definitions

In fact, Florida statutes define a “vulnerable adult” as a person age 18+ whose ability to perform normal activities of daily living and/or to provide for his/her own care or protection or are impaired due to a mental, emotional, sensory long term physical or developmental disability or brain damage, or due to the infirmities of aging.

Florida Statutes defines “caregiver” as a person who has been entrusted with or assumed responsibility for frequent and regular care of or services to a vulnerable adult (on a temporary or permanent basis) who has a commitment, agreement, or understanding with that person that a caregiver role exists.

So there needs to be some kind of relationship between a “caregiver” and “vulnerable adult” in order for DCF to investigate the claim for elder abuse. For example, if someone randomly pushes a vulnerable adult in a parking lot; that would not meet the caregiver’s definition and DCF would not investigate that kind of “elder abuse” (rather, the police should be involved).

Elder Abuse Laws in Florida

Florida Statutes, Chapter 415, is the Adult Protective Services Act. This statute mandates that the Florida Department of Children and Families commence an investigation within 24 hours of being reported if just the allegations warrant so.  If the report is serious enough the statute provides for immediate onsite protective investigation. An investigation into the allegations may not take longer than 60 days.

Florida Statues, Chapter 825 provides that aggravated abuse of an elderly person or disabled adult is a 1st-degree felony. Neglect that causes significant bodily harm, disfigurement, or disability is a 2nd-degree felony.

Elder Abuse Prevention Coordinators have been established by statute and can be contacted at the following locations:

Miami Alliance for Aging | 305.670.6500 | 760 NW 107th Avenue, Suite 214, Miami, FL 33172

Aging & Disability Resource Center of Broward County | 954.745.9567 | 5300 Hiatus Road, Sunrise, FL 33351

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has a legal hotline to provide free legal advice to eligible seniors over 60 years old: 888.895.7873.

‍Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation

Abuse: any willful or threatened act by a relative, caregiver, or household member, which causes or is likely to cause significant impairment to a vulnerable adult’s physical or emotional health. Abuse includes omissions.

Neglect: failure or omission on part of the caregiver or vulnerable adult (self-neglect should also be reported)to provide care, supervision, and services necessary to maintain the physical and mental health of the vulnerable adult. Importantly, no “intent to harm” is required to meet this definition. The caregiver reported to DCF doesn’t always have the intent to harm; sometimes they are in over their heads and need help. DCF will refer such caregivers to the potential services available to them to assist in caring for the vulnerable adult.

Exploitation: knowingly, or by deception or intimidation, obtaining or using (or attempting to obtain o ruse) the vulnerable adult’s funds, assets, or property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult. The exploiter is usually someone in a position of trust and confidence and one who knew or should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent.

‍Who commits the crime of elder abuse?

According to DCF reporting, the majority of elder abusers are relatives of the vulnerable older adult! Almost 30% of these cases involve the children of the senior citizen. But a significant portion, about 20% of reported elder-abuse cases occur in an institutional setting.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs has produced some materials discussing ways to understand the signs of, and protect against, various types of elder abuse. Elder abuse includes physical abuse (whether in the form of violence or neglect), emotional abuse, identity theft, and financial exploitation.

Elder abuse can also come in the form of nursing home negligence – especially in the case of bedsores/decubitus ulcers. If you suspect nursing home negligence, resulting in serious injury, contact our office.

Elder Law Attorney Resources

To check on reviews and reports of elder abuse for a particular nursing home or assisted living facility, click here: http://www.floridahealthfinder.gov/facilitylocator/facloc.aspx

To check complaints, regulatory actions, and disciplinary history of a financial advisor, click here: http://brokercheck.finra.org/

Adult Protective Services Investigation Process

Dial the number (or click the link) above to be able to report elder abuse online. The report will be screened to see if the allegations, if true, would satisfy DCF’s definition of elder abuse. If so, a formal investigation is commenced within 24 hours of the initial report/call.

If the reporter is told that what they are reporting does not meet criteria, and they truly believe that elder abuse is happening, they should ask to speak with a supervisor.

Most elder abuse victims are visited, in person, by a DCF investigator within that initial 24 hour period. The investigator is looking for signs of abuse, neglect, or exploitation and will refer to services if necessary. The investigator is assessing risk for harm or risk of future harm. For example, if a bank blocked a questionable transaction ad reported the possible financial elder abuse, while the potential abuser’s attempt to steal money was unsuccessful (as the bank blocked the transaction), the “risk of future harm” is great.

All elder abuse investigations must be complete within 60 days.

The Adult Protective Services investigator will conduct a background check into the alleged victim and abuser (looking for patterns of, or a propensity towards, similar abuse) and determine if other agencies need to be involved or if law enforcement should accompany the investigator to visit with the victim.

When they visit the victim they will always conduct at least part of the investigation by speaking with the victim in private if there are other residents or caretakers in the same household.

The investigator will also speak to other sources of information(banker, primary care physician, neighbors, other caregivers, prior caregivers, family, etc…)

The investigator will determine if any other services are needed and available to the victim while assessing the risk for future harm. If DCF believes that a vulnerable adult has been abused, neglected, or exploited and is in need of protective services but lacks the capacity to consent to protective services, DCF can petition the court for an order authorizing the provision of services. Fla.Stat. 415.1051. They can also remove from the premises and arrange for transportation to an appropriate medical or protective services facility.  An emergency petition for protective services must be heard by the court within four days of filing the petition.

But if there are assets, it would be better for a family member or friend to file for emergency temporary guardianship because a guardian can do so much more than DCF.

‍What to Report when Reporting Elder Abuse

While one can report elder abuse anonymously, doing so can make it difficult for the investigator to follow up and ask important questions about the abuse. Prepare to provide as much of the following details as possible:

1.      Name, age, sex, physical and behavioral description, and location of the abuse victim.

2.      Names, addresses, phone numbers of victim’s family members.

3.      Names, addresses, phone numbers of each alleged perpetrator and the alleged abuser’s relationship to the victim.

4.      Names, addresses, phone numbers of the victim’s caregiver (if different than the alleged abuser).

5.      Description of physical and/or psychological injuries involved or signs of harm.

6.      Who else might have information related to the alleged abuse.

7.      Any other information the reporter feels is relevant.

Anonymity is revealed only if a false report is made(because that is illegal, not to mention a waste of the state’s resources that could have been put towards a case with merit) or if the reporter provides permission.

‍Criminal and Civil Consequences of Elder Abuse

Fla.Stat. 772 provides treble damages for civil theft.

There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(A) if:

·        Victim is elderly, the suspect is in a position of trust/confidence/has a business relationship, and suspect obtained funds/assets/property.

There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(B) if:

·        Victim is elderly, victim lacks the capacity to consent, suspect obtained (or endeavored to obtain) funds/assets/property to benefit someone other than the victim, and suspect knew or had reason to know that victim lacked capacity.

There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(C) if:

·        Victim is elderly, the suspect is guardian/trustee/agent under POA, suspect breached fiduciary responsibility which resulted in unauthorized sale/transfer/misappropriation of victim’s property.

There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(D) if:

·        Victim is elderly, suspect misappropriated, misused, or transferred (without authorization) money from a personal, joint, or convenience bank account.

o  Fla.Stat. 825.103(1)(d) defines exploitation as the misappropriation, misusing, or transferring without authorization money belonging to an elderly person from an account in which the elderly person placed the funds, owned the funds, and was the sole contributor or payee of the funds.

o  This is so a joint account holder (who contributes nothing to the account), who perhaps starts off only paying bills of the elderly owner but then decides to withdraw funds and buy a Ferrari for themselves, can still be charged for exploitation.

There is a violation of Fla. Stat. 825.103(1)(E) if:

·        Victim is elderly, suspect stands in the position of trust or is a caregiver, suspect intentionally or negligently failed to effectively use victim’s income or assets for the necessities required for the victim’s support or maintenance.

Fla. Stat. 825.103(2) presumes exploitation when there is a transfer of money over $10,000 by a person 65 years old or older to a non-relative whom the transferor knew for fewer than two years before the first transfer and for which the transferor did not receive the reasonably equivalent financial value in goods or services.

Fla. Stat. 825.103(4): Asset Seizure: if a person is charged with financial exploitation for more than $5,000 and property believing to the victim is seized from the defendant pursuant to a search warrant, the court will hold an evidentiary hearing to determine whether the older adult’s property was unlawfully obtained. If so, the court may order it returned to the victim for restitution purposes before trial.

‍Elder Abuse Statistics

DCF investigated 52,858 reports of elder abuse in the 2015-2016 fiscal year.

·        18.7K involved self-neglect

·        17.2K involved inadequate supervision

·        11.2K involved exploitation

·        9.5K involved physical injury

Most common forms of elder abuse in an institutionalized setting

Not surprisingly, the largest category of nursing home/ALF abusers come from the employees of the institution.

·        3.7K involved inadequate supervision

·        2.9K involved physical injury

·        1.4K involved medical neglect

·        1K involved environmental hazards

·        .3K involved exploitation

Most common forms of elder abuse while the elder is living at home

Perhaps more surprisingly is that the senior citizen’s own child is most likely to be the alleged abuser.

·        5.7K involve self-neglect

·        5.7K involve exploitation

·        5.7K involve inadequate supervision

Read more related articles at:

Elder Protection Programs

Adult Protective Services

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:


Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.



Elderly orphans

Elder Orphans. What Happens If An Elderly Person Has No One To Take Care Of Them?

What Happens If An Elderly Person Has No One To Care Of Them?

When an elderly person has no one to take care of them, they may opt to take care of themselves and continue living in their own home. Programs for seniors without family are available, as are nursing homes and assisted living. Some states will enlist a guardian for seniors who can no longer keep up with daily tasks of living or make decisions for themselves.

We have a lot to unpack in this article as we explore a senior’s options when they’re old, their physical health is declining, or they have dementia or memory loss, but they have no family (and possibly no money as well). Make sure you keep reading for lots of helpful information!

What Happens To Elderly Living Alone?

According to a 2013 report from AARP called The Aging of the Baby Boom and the Growing Care Gap: A Look at Future Declines in the Availability of Family Caregivers, the AARP estimated that by 2030, a whopping 16 percent of women up to 84 years old will have never had children.

For others – well, it’s hard enough losing the people we love as we get older. But for some seniors, they may lose family members or become estranged from those who were closest to them in their younger years – their spouse, their kids, and their friends.

For other seniors, it could be that they are close to family, but their loved ones have moved to another part of the world.

Either way, these “elder orphans” only have themselves to rely on. It can be a really tough situation to be in, but there are ways to cope.

Here is what can happen to them.

They Continue Living Alone

No rule says an aging senior has to change their lifestyle just because they’re getting older.

They should consider their care options, but due to fear of the unknown or stubbornness, they might decide to continue caring for themselves like nothing is wrong.

This can be highly dangerous, as we’re sure we don’t have to tell you. If an elderly person living alone slips and falls and is not wearing a medical alert device and is out of reach of the phone, then they have no way to call for help.

NOTE: if you don’t want to wear a medical alert device, a voice-activated Amazon Echo Dot or a smart watch, such as an Apple watch, can be used instead. There is even medical alert jewelry that looks like a regular necklace.

Without anyone checking in on them, the senior would have to force themselves to get to a phone or risk being stranded.

This happened to my mom – she fell and broke her shoulder and could not get up to reach the phone that was on the counter just above her. Thankfully my dad came home and found her after a couple of hours, but I still shudder to think about what would have happened if she had lived by herself.

Sadly, many older people will go through this trauma alone (and, in some cases, their quality of life will be severely impacted or they will not survive).


They Move Into An Assisted Living Facility Or A Nursing Home

After a drastic change in their physical condition, such as one slip and fall without anyone to help them, a senior might change their tune and decide that they need assistance in their day-to-day lives.

They could move into an assisted living community or even a nursing home.

Usually, adult children or other family members would encourage this decision for the elderly, but not in this case.

They Enter A Conservatorship

Of course, we should note that both assisted living and nursing home care are anything but cheap.

According to Where You Live Matters, a resource for seniors, as of 2018, the yearly cost of assisted living was $48,000. We’re sure the costs have only continued to climb in the years since that data was released.

Senior Living.org states that, as of 2021, the monthly cost of nursing home care is $7,756 for a semi-private room and $8,821 for a private room. The costs would be between $93,072 and $105,852 a year.

Keep in mind too that Medicare doesn’t often pay for these services, which means a senior would have to rely on different insurance or other financial means.

That’s a lot of money to ask of anyone, let alone an elderly person who likely hasn’t worked in decades.

So what happens when a senior can’t afford to live in a facility and they have no family who can step in and help?

Well, in some states, such as California, a senior could receive assistance. The state could offer a conservatorship where someone is assigned the role of the senior’s guardian.

They likely wouldn’t know the guardian, but the guardian still makes financial, health, and medical decisions for the senior.

Usually, this only happens if a senior is unable to make decisions for themselves.

Not every state offers conservatorship services though, and even for the ones that do, it’s not easy to obtain these services. The conservators who step in on a senior’s behalf are doing so on a volunteer basis, after all.

How Do You Plan For Old Age With No Family?

Aging is inevitable. Even with a full support system of beloved family, aging can be scary. Once you remove that network, the prospect of facing old age alone is daunting.

We don’t recommend an elderly individual does it alone, for their own health, safety, and mental well being.

Instead, these should be the pillars of planning as a senior determines how they’ll proceed through the years without a spouse, partner, or adult children.

Put Your Affairs In Order

One of the best things you can do for yourself is to make sure your legal and financial affairs are in order before you have a health problem or cognitive decline. You’ll make better decisions when you aren’t under stress.

If you live alone, this is especially important, as there may be no one else who knows your wishes or how to access your accounts.

Good legal planning with the help of an elder care lawyer is an important part of ensuring that your wishes are carried out in the event that you are unable to make or communicate decisions on your own behalf.

Here are some key elements of legal planning to keep in mind:

  • First, take inventory of existing legal documents, such as your will, power of attorney, and health care directive. Review these documents and make any necessary updates.
  • Second, make legal plans for your finances and property. For example, you may want to consider establishing a trust or setting up a beneficiary designation.
  • Third, put plans in place for enacting your future health care and long-term care preferences. This may include making decisions about end-of-life care, guardianship, and long-term care insurance.
  • Finally, name another person to make decisions on your behalf when you no longer can. This person, known as your agent or proxy, will be responsible for carrying out your wishes according to the terms of your legal documents. In order to do this, start by designating someone you trust as your power of attorney. This person will be able to make financial decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated.

Many people don’t think about appointing a power of attorney until it’s too late.

Whether you’re dealing with an illness, injury, or just the natural aging process, there may come a time when you can no longer make your own decisions. That’s why it’s so important to have a power of attorney document in place.

This document allows you to appoint someone you trust to handle your financial and other affairs if you’re ever unable to do so yourself. You can also name successor agents in case your original choice is unavailable or unwilling to serve.

And it’s important to remember that power of attorney does not give the person you appoint complete control over your life. You still have the right to make your own decisions, as long as you have the legal capacity to do so.

So don’t put off appoint a power of attorney – it could be one of the most important decisions you ever make.

You should also write a will or talk to an attorney who can help with estate planning to outline how you would like your assets to be distributed after your death.

While these may not be pleasant topics to think about, making these plans now will give you peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in order.

End Of Life Wishes

Many people choose to avoid thinking about end-of-life care or funeral arrangements, but it’s an important topic to consider. End-of-life care can encompass a wide range of issues, from medical treatment to funeral arrangements.

Ideally, it’s best to express your wishes now while you are able to make decisions for yourself.

Addressing your wishes with your care team or a legal professional will ensure that your expressed requests will be followed when appropriate.

By taking the time to plan ahead, you can ensure that your wishes will be respected and that others will not have to make difficult decisions on your behalf.

Build Social Bonds

If you thought it was hard to find friends after college, it can be even more difficult in one’s senior years, but it has to be done!

A senior can find new friends in all sorts of places, from the doctor’s office waiting room to the post office.

Talk to neighbors, too, especially younger neighbors or neighbors with families. Explain the situation to them.

The point of being sociable is to build a support network. A senior should have people around them who will notice if they don’t pick up their phone. They need someone or several people who know the senior’s routine and can thus determine if they’re not following it.

These people will check in on the senior so that if, goodness forbid, a situation transpires where a senior has fallen and can’t get help or is otherwise unresponsive, the support network can step in and get the senior the proper medical care they need.

Mail carriers are also helpful if you ask them to keep an eye out for trouble. There are plenty of stories about mail carriers who asked for a home welfare check after someone who regularly picked up their mail stopped doing so. You can actually register to get this service.

Move Into A Joint Household

Assisted living can be expensive, but an informal joint household is usually a lot more affordable.

What is a joint household? This housing arrangement includes friends or extended family members of the senior who live under one roof. Collectively, they provide care for the senior.

This is a win-win-win situation. A senior doesn’t have to deal with the isolation of living alone, they’re surrounded by people they love, and they’re receiving care.

Find Other Family

Families are often bigger than we give them credit for and sometimes just need to reconnect. A senior should look into their family lineage if they’re fearing the years ahead without any care.

They just may have extended family in the area that they never realized were so close! For example, when I moved to Colorado, I was able to reunite with an elderly uncle who had been estranged from the family for several years.

Programs For Seniors Without Family

Another option for an older person is to seek the assistance of social services and programs designed for seniors without families. Here are some programs to look into.

Senior Centers

According to the National Council On Aging, a senior center serves “as a gateway to the nation’s aging network—connecting older adults to vital community services that can help them stay healthy and independent.”

They can put you in touch with your local Area Agency On Aging for things like meal delivery, financial assistance and help with personal needs.

AmeriCorps Senior Companion Program

The AmeriCorps Senior Companion Program provides companionship to nearby seniors living on their own. The companion program is about building friendships between volunteers and the elderly.

The goal is to “keep seniors independent longer.”

No Wrong Door

No Wrong Door in association with the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the Veterans Health Administration, and the Administration for Community Living offers seniors and others in need community-based support.

Equality Conversion Mortgage

The Home Equality Conversion Mortgage or HECM  through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development allows a senior to use some of their home equity, none of which accrues interest or has to be repaid as long as they live in their home.

To be eligible for the HECM program, a senior must be at least 62 years old and have significant equity.

What Happens To Dementia Patients With No Family

After a diagnosis of Alzheimer’s or other dementia, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. Suddenly, there are a lot of decisions to be made and new challenges to face.

If you have dementia, or are caring for someone with the condition, you may be worried about what will happen if you have no family members who can help you if you can no longer care for yourself.

After all, you may be able to manage perfectly well in the mild / beginning stages of the disease, but dementia is a progressive condition and it can lead to a decline in physical and mental abilities over time.

This can make it difficult to do everyday tasks and may eventually make it impossible for you to continue to live independently.

If you don’t have any family or friends who are able to help you, there are still options available to you. There are also many support services available for people with dementia.

Housing Options

One option is to move into a dementia-specific care facility. These facilities provide 24-hour care and support, and the various programs in this type of community can help to delay the progression of the condition.

The goal is to receive in-home support. This can include help with cooking, cleaning, and personal care.

Financial Considerations

The sooner you start planning, the more control you will have over your finances and the less stress you will feel. There are a few key things to keep in mind when financial planning with dementia.

Begin by collecting all of your important financial documents in one place. This should include bank statements, investment accounts, insurance policies, and wills or trusts.

Once you have gathered everything together, sit down with a trusted friend or accountant to review your finances and make a plan for the future. It may seem daunting at first, but taking these steps will help to ease your anxiety during an uncertain time.

Financially, consider the cost of the type of care you may need for memory care issues (such as home health aides or nursing home care) which can be extremely high. Even informal care, such as help from friends, can come with a significant financial cost, as it often requires hiring outside help to cover regular tasks like cooking or cleaning.

To help ease the financial burden:

  • Investigate any long-term care insurance that may be in place.
  • Also, if you are a veteran, you may be eligible for benefits that can help.
  • If you are younger than age 65, SSI (Supplemental Social Security) or Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) may be able to help.
  • You may also qualify to get help from Medicaid (there are income and asset qualifications to meet).
  • If you own a home, a reverse mortgage may be of assistance.

Put A Care Team Into Place

A care team is the group of people who you’ll partner with and rely on to provide you help, care, support and connection throughout the course of the disease.

The team may include your friends, co-workers or trusted neighbors. It also may include your doctor, nurses, social workers, geriatric care managers, clergy or therapist.

The goal of the care team is to provide physical, emotional and spiritual support. The care team also can provide important practical assistance, such as transportation to doctor’s appointments or help with household chores.

Begin to assemble a care team by making a list of everyone you can think of who may be willing to help.

Then, tell them about your diagnosis and let them know what you might need in the future (transportation to the grocery store or medical appointments, help preparing food, etc).

If they agree to help, add their names and contact information to your care team list.

Legal Paperwork

Put legal paperwork into place so that your wishes are carried out for both medical care and end of life care.

It is crucial to do this before you begin to experience cognitive decline, so if you have a family history of dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, it’s a good idea to put plans into place “just in case” you are ever diagnosed.

Regardless of a dementia diagnosis, you’ll need to appoint a power of attorney for both your financial and medical needs.

A power of attorney is a document that allows you to appoint someone to make decisions on your behalf. This can be useful in a variety of situations, such as if you become incapacitated or are unable to make decisions for yourself.

The person you appoint is called an attorney-in-fact or agent. It’s important to choose someone you trust, as they will have a lot of responsibility.

You should also name a successor agent, in case the person you originally choose is unable or unwilling to serve.

Keep in mind that even though you are giving the person you designate as your power of attorney the authority to make decisions, you still have the final say. They are there to help you, not override your decisions.

Power of attorney is a valuable tool that can give you peace of mind knowing that your affairs are in good hands.

How Do You Help An Elderly Person Who Lives Alone?

It can be tough for elderly people to get by without any family nearby. They might not have anyone to help them with yard work, grocery shopping, or even just keeping the house clean. And if they live alone, it can be easy for them to become isolated and lonely.

But there are some things you can do to help.

Check On Them

Just a quick check-in every now and then can make a world of difference in their lives. Something as simple as a phone call, a cup of coffee, or even simply waving to them from the sidewalk can help them feel connected and valued.

Checking in also gives you an opportunity to make sure that they are safe and comfortable. If you notice any problems, you can alert the proper authorities or provide assistance yourself.

Help Them Out

You could also offer to help out with practical tasks like grocery shopping or yard work.

If they don’t have transportation, you could give them a ride to appointments, social events, grocery shopping or medical appointments.

Visit Often

Solo seniors who struggle with mobility or age-related conditions like dementia probably don’t have the biggest social circle. They may not see or speak to anyone for days especially if they’re living alone.

By visiting the senior several times per week and spending companionable hours with them, you could improve their mental health and well being just through your presence.


Considering that a senior who lives alone might not have many people to talk to, they likely will have a lot to say when you two talk.

Sometimes, the senior may use you as a sounding board whereas other times, they’ll want to have an everyday conversation.

Let the senior talk, as this could be their only opportunity. Listen to them and respond thoughtfully and helpfully if you can.

Do Activities Together

Making your time together meaningful will have a senior looking forward to seeing you again.

You can engage in senior-friendly arts and crafts, watch old films or listen to old music together (which can invoke memories for dementia patients), or even get outside and take a walk if the senior is able to leave the house while under your care.


More seniors today are facing the prospect of getting older with no one to care for them.

Whether they never married and are childless, or divorced and childless, or their family moved away, or a tragic loss occurred, these seniors have to go through their most difficult years without family.

This never means that a senior is alone though. Through programs, conservatorships, community volunteers, friends and neighbors, and even long-distance family, a senior can almost always find a way to have someone looking out for them!

Read  more related articles here:

‘Elder orphans,’ without kids or spouses, face old age alone.

Elder Orphans Hiding in Plain Sight: A Growing Vulnerable Population

The Rise of Elder Orphans: What You Should Know

Also, read one of our previous Blogs here:

When Do I Need an Elder Law Attorney?

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.



Elder scams

The Top 5 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.

The Top 5 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors.

By: The National Council On Aging

Key Takeaways

  • Scams targeting older adults are on the rise. In 2021, there were 92,371 older victims of fraud resulting in $1.7 billion in losses.
  • The most common financial scams targeting older people include government impersonation scams, sweepstakes scams, and robocall scams.
  • Financial crimes against older adults can be devastating, often leaving victims with no way to recoup their losses. Learn how to identify and stop the top 5 financial scams targeting seniors.

Financial scams targeting older adults are costly, widespread, and on the rise. According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), in 2021 there were 92,371 older victims of fraud resulting in $1.7 billion in losses. This was a 74% increase in losses compared to 2020.1

Why do financial scammers target seniors?

Fraudsters and con artists tend to go after older adults because they believe this population has plenty of money in the bank. But it’s not just wealthy older Americans who are targeted. Older adults with low income are also at risk for fraud.

Financial scams often go unreported or can be tough to prosecute, so they’re viewed as a “low-risk” crime. However, they’re devastating to many older adults and can leave them in a vulnerable position, with limited ability to recover their losses.

How common are financial scams targeting older adults?

In the five-year period ending December 31, 2020, the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Fraud Hotline received more than 8,000 complaints nationwide.

The five scams outlined below made up more than 65% of these complaints.2

1. Government impersonation scams

In government impersonation scams (also known as government imposter scams), scammers call unsuspecting older adults and pretend to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Social Security Administration, or Medicare. They may say the victim has unpaid taxes and threaten arrest or deportation if they don’t pay up immediately. Or they may say Social Security or Medicare benefits will be cut off if the victim doesn’t provide personal identifying information. This information can then be used to commit identity theft.

Government imposters may demand specific forms of payment, such as a prepaid debit card, cash, or wire transfer. Using special technology, they often “spoof” the actual phone number of a government agency or call from the same zip code (202 for Washington, D.C., for example). This can trick some people into thinking the caller is from a valid source.

2.  Sweepstakes and lottery scams

The sweepstakes scam is one many people are familiar with. Here, scammers call an older adult to tell them they’ve won a lottery or prize of some kind. If they want to claim their winnings, the older adult must send money, cash, or gift cards up front—sometimes thousands of dollars’ worth—to cover supposed taxes and processing fees. Scammers may impersonate well-known sweepstakes organizations (like Publishers Clearing House) to build trust among their victims. Of course, no prize is ever delivered. Sometimes, fraudsters are able to convince the older adult to send even more money by telling them their winnings will arrive soon. Many continue to call their victims for months and even years after defrauding them out of an initial sum of money.

3. Robocalls and phone scams

One common robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call. When the older person says “yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up.Robocalls take advantage of sophisticated, automated phone technology to dial large numbers of households from anywhere in the world. While there are legal uses for this technology, robocalls can also be used to carry out a variety of scams on trusting older adults who answer the phone. Some robocalls may claim that a warranty is expiring on the victim’s car or electronic device, and payment is needed to renew it. Like with government impersonation calls, scammers often spoof the number from which they’re calling to make it appear as if the call is from a reputed organization.

One common robocall is the “Can you hear me?” call. When the older person says “yes,” the scammer records their voice and hangs up. The criminal then has a voice signature to authorize unwanted charges on items like stolen credit cards.

Yet another popular phone scam is the “impending lawsuit” scam. In this case, the victim receives an urgent, frightening call from someone claiming to be from a government or law enforcement agency (like the police). They are told if they don’t pay a fine by a certain deadline, they will be sued or arrested for some made-up offense.

4. Computer tech support scams

Technical support scams prey on older people’s lack of knowledge about computers and cybersecurity. A pop-up message or blank screen usually appears on a computer or phone, telling the victim their device is damaged and needs fixing. When they call the support number for help, the scammer may either request remote access to the older person’s computer and/or demand they pay a fee to have it repaired. In 2021, the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) fielded 13,900 tech support fraud complaints from older victims who suffered nearly $238 million in losses.

“Tech support fraud is increasingly common and targets some of the most vulnerable individuals. Above all, remember that whether it’s a phone call or a website, legitimate tech support won’t ever proactively seek you out to fix an issue,” said Emma McGowan, a privacy and Security expert at Avast.

Behind the numbers are real people who have endured devastating losses at the hands of cybercriminals. In 2021, a man from Illinois lost his life savings to scammers pretending to be an employee of a known antivirus company. Under the guise of giving the man a refund for unused software, these scam artists gained remote access to his bank account and home equity line of credit. They ultimately made away with nearly $200,000—money that was never recovered.

If you’re wondering how to avoid tech support scams, there are a number of things you can do. Learn how to protect yourself and if you suspect you’ve been a victim, follow these steps from our partner Avast.

5. The grandparent scam

The grandparent scam is so simple and so devious because it uses one of older adults’ most reliable assets, their hearts. Scammers call a would-be grandparent and say something along the lines of: “Hi, Grandma, do you know who this is?” When the unaware grandparent guesses the name of the grandchild the scammer most sounds like, the scammer is able to instantly secure their trust. The fake grandchild then asks for money to solve some urgent financial problem (such as overdue rent, car repairs, or jail bond). They may beg the grandparent not to tell anyone. Since fraudsters often ask to be paid via gift cards or money transfer, which don’t always require identification to collect, the older adult may have no way of ever recovering their money.

In other versions of this scam, the caller claims to be an arresting police officer, doctor, or lawyer trying to help the grandchild. They then use high-pressure tactics that play on the emotions of their victim to get them to send cash as quickly as possible. There are even reports of scammers showing up at older adults’ homes, posing as a “courier” to pick up the money.

Other popular scams targeting older adults

Romance scams

As more people turn to online dating, con artists are seizing the opportunity. Romance scammers create elaborate fake profiles, often on social media, and exploit older adults’ loneliness to get money. In some cases, these scammers may be (or pretend to be) overseas. They may request money to pay for visas, medical emergencies, and travel expenses to come visit the U.S. Since they tend to drag on for a long time, romance scams (also called sweetheart scams) can bilk an older person out of substantial funds. The FTC found that in 2020 alone, older adults lost $304 million to romance scams.3 Get tips for avoiding sweetheart scams.

COVID-19 scams

By June 2021, the FTC had already logged more than 500,000 consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments. Seventy-three percent of those complaints involved fraud and identity theft.2 Examples of COVID-19 scams include:

  • So-called miracle cures: Some companies have fraudulently marketed products as a “cure” to COVID-19 infection. These products are not backed by medical evidence nor are they FDA-approved.
  • Vaccines: Scammers may call older people to offer vaccination in exchange for money or personal information. Please keep in mind that you can get vaccinated against COVID-19 at no cost and without providing your banking information. Learn how to avoid COVID vaccine scams.
  • COVID-19 testing: Some older adults have reported offers of “free” COVID-19 tests or supplies from people claiming to be from Medicare or the Department of Health and Human Services. These fraudsters then use the victim’s Medicare information to submit false health care claims.

Investment scams

This type of scam involves the illegal or alleged sale of financial instruments that typically offer the victim low risk and guaranteed returns. Investment schemes were responsible for more than $239 million in losses suffered by people age 60 and older in 2021. The use of cryptocurrency (digital assets, such as Bitcoin) is common in investment scams. In 2021, cryptocurrency was the basis for more than 5,100 fraud complaints received by IC3.1

Medicare and health insurance scams

Every U.S. citizen or permanent resident over age 65 qualifies for Medicare, making the program a prime tool for fraud. In Medicare scams, con artists may pose as a Medicare representative to get older adults to share their personal information. Scammers might also provide bogus services for older people at makeshift mobile clinics, then bill Medicare and pocket the money. Medicare scams often follow the latest trends in medical research, such as genetic testing and COVID-19 vaccines.

Internet and email fraud

The slower rate of technology adoption among some older people makes them easier targets for internet and email scams. Pop-up browser windows that look like anti-virus software can fool victims into either downloading a fake anti-virus program (at a substantial cost) or an actual virus that exposes information on the user’s computer to scammers. Their unfamiliarity with the less visible aspects of browsing the web (firewalls and built-in virus protection, for example) makes older adults especially vulnerable to such traps.

Phishing emails and text messages may appear to be from a well-known bank, credit card company, or online store. They request an older adult’s personal data, such as a log-in or Social Security number, to verify that person’s account, or they ask the older adult to update their credit card info. Then, they use that information to steal money or more personal information. Find out how to protect yourself against phishing scams.

What to do if you think you’ve been the victim of a scam

Scams are specially designed to catch us off guard, and they can happen to anyone. There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you think you’re a victim. Keep handy the phone numbers of resources that can help, including the local police, your bank (if money has been taken from your accounts), and Adult Protective Services. To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government sponsored national resource line, at: 1-800-677-1116, or visit their website.

You can also report scams online to the FTC. Sharing your experience can help prevent it from happening to another older adult.

Read more related articles here:

Senior Scams: What to Watch Out for in 2022

Senior scam statistics 2022

Also, read one of our previous Blogs at:

How Do I Protect My Elderly Parent from Scams and Elder Abuse?

Click here to check out our On Demand Video about Estate Planning.

Click here for a short informative video from our own Attorney Bill O’Leary.


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