How to Combat Elder Financial Abuse

One estimate is that the amount of elder financial fraud is $30 billion a year, defining it as the theft of money by thieves who include con artists, strangers, caregivers or trusted friends or family members. According to Consumer Reports, in the article “3 Critical Ways to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse,” these crimes are often not reported. Sometimes, the seniors are too embarrassed to admit that they were fooled, or they don’t want to put a family member at risk. They often don’t know they have been scammed, or are physically unable to articulate what has happened to them.

This is starting to change, as banks are starting to increase their reporting of suspected elder financial abuse. Last year, U.S. banks reported roughly 25,000 cases of suspected elder financial abuse to the U.S. Treasury. That’s more than double the amount reported in 2013, as reflected in data from the U.S. Treasury department’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Bureau.

One reason behind the surge is demographics: although the baby boomers are getting older, they have a tremendous amount of assets and are vulnerable to being defrauded.

However, the increase in reported cases may also be bolstered by big pushes from the federal government, states, and the financial industry to fight elder financial abuse. New regulations are now in place to encourage people who are on the front lines for elder abuse: brokers, bankers and financial advisors.

FINRA, the self-regulatory agency that oversees brokers, now requires them to ask clients, no matter how young or old, to provide the name and contact information for a trusted family member or friend. If the broker believes that person is being exploited, they have someone to contact. The new regulations also allow brokers to put a hold on withdrawals from a client’s account, if they believe there may be elder financial abuse occurring. The hold is for 15 days but can be extended 10 more days.

From the federal government, the Senior Safe Act became law in 2018. It enables the employees of any financial institutions to report concerns about elder abuse, without fear of being held liable for disclosing private information. To qualify for this protection, financial institutions are required to provide training to staff about recognizing the abuse. At the state level, NASAA (the North American Securities Administrators Association, a group of state regulators) adopted a rule in 2016 which mandates that brokers and financial advisors report any suspected abuse to state authorities. The rule also allows them to stop withdrawals on accounts and protects brokers and advisors from liability, if they stop account disbursement. Sixteen states have enacted versions of the rule, and there are six more states working on legislation.

On a more personal level, there are three things family members and friends can do to prevent elder financial abuse. One is to stay in touch and ask questions of aging parents. Isolation and cognitive impairment are the biggest risk factors. Make sure that your parent is keeping up with bill paying, and whether he or she is in contact with new friends, strangers who may not have their best interests in mind.

If your parent is willing, start by offering to help with a few financial tasks, like bill paying. Keep it low key, by including a visit with the task. If you see things are not being handled well, stay on top of it.

Another step is to set up checks and balances, by making sure that critical legal documents are in place. There should be a will, a healthcare proxy, a HIPAA release form and a durable power of attorney. The durable power of attorney will let you pay bills and manage finances, if and when they can no longer manage. If there is no will or estate plan in place, make an appointment for your parent with a qualified estate planning attorney as soon as possible.

Consider streamlining aging parent’s finances. If they have too many credit cards and too many bank accounts, it may make things easier if they can pare things down to one bank and one credit card. Be very careful with retirement accounts, like 401(k)s and IRAs, to avoid any taxes and penalties.

Simplifying money management and being involved with your parent’s finances and their lives can help prevent financial elder abuse.

Reference: Consumer Reports (Feb. 22, 2019) “3 Critical Ways to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse”

Downsizing Boomers Find Help from Senior Move Management Companies

When faced with the task of pulling up roots and moving her family from a big midwestern city to a smaller town, Laura Schulman found it overwhelming. However, she did enjoy some of the tasks, including handling all the details of organizing and packing and setting up a new home. Nine years later, she decided to start a company that would help seniors downsize, before moving to smaller homes, apartments or assisted living facilities.

As reported in Columbus CEO’s article Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva,” Schulman and her team at A Moving Experience take the work and worry out of a move, so seniors can focus on the emotional challenges that come with this kind of move. When people are not at their physical best, downsizing can be extremely upsetting. It can get to the point, where many people wait until the very last minute and then panic sets in.

Her company is one of many senior move management companies that help seniors with this transition. The companies organize possessions, create a floor plan for new residences, schedule and oversee moving companies, handle any sales or donations of items that are no longer needed or wanted and even pack and unpack after the move.

What’s just as important: they provide the seniors with the emotional support needed during a very trying time. It’s not easy to be faced with the reality that they must leave their home after decades or even a lifetime. Equally upsetting: coming to terms with the limitations of aging.

Children and family members may not be as sensitive to their parent’s emotions about a move like this, or they may be equally uncomfortable. Having a non-family professional may serve as a buffer and a facilitator for everyone.

The increase in the number of these types of companies is due to the enormous number of Baby Boomers entering retirement. Most will be downsizing, as they leave one-family homes and move to smaller living spaces. With 10,000 turning 65 everyday, a projected 79 million Americans will be 65 or older by 2030. Clearly, aging is a big business.

Senior moving management charges range in pricing from $40 to $120 per person nationwide, with the average price for help costing around $3,000, plus the charge of the moving company.

The money is considered well-spent by many. One family called on a senior moving company, when their mother had to leave her long-time home in one state and relocate to an independent senior living community near family members in another state. The siblings reported that they needed help from someone who would be patient and understand the process their mother was going through. The senior mover worked to make the new home layout, as close to the mother’s original house as possible.

Nonprofit organizations are also getting involved in helping seniors move, with several agencies helping seniors, who can’t afford the services of a private company.

Reference: Columbus CEO (Jan. 21, 2019) Estate Planning and Retirement: How to Downsize Like a Diva”