Everyone I know is getting older. I’m not sure exactly when it started, but birthdays are coming faster and faster. And, although I can’t prove it, I am pretty sure I had two birthdays last year. But getting older isn’t all bad. As they say, 70 is the new 50.
People are living longer than ever due to continuing medical advances and the adoption of healthier lifestyles. Older Americans now comprise the fastest growing segment of the United States population. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, people 65 and older accounted for 12.5 percent of the U.S. population in 2000. It is anticipated this percentage will increase to a whopping 25 percent by 2050.
Unfortunately, as a result of the increasing number of older Americans, the number of those who will become victims of elder abuse will likely increase as well.
As we age, our physical capabilities change: we may not see or hear as well, and we may not think as quickly or clearly as we did when we were younger. As a result, we may become dependent upon family members, friends, or caregivers for assistance in handling many things including our financial affairs. This can leave us vulnerable to financial exploitation.
Elder abuse does not discriminate. It can happen to anyone. By educating ourselves and being aware of such activities, the risk of becoming a victim may be reduced.
There are many methods in which strangers, relatives, friends or caregivers may use to exploit an elderly individual. Listed below are just a few examples:
• Taking the victim’s money, property or valuables
• Borrowing money and never paying it back
• Giving away the victim’s possessions without permission
• Misusing victim’s ATM or credit cards
• Forcing the victim to give them resources or property
• Fraudulently billing for home repairs
The victim may also be isolated from family members and friends as the abuser attempts to keep the abuse a secret. Offenders may intimidate victims into having the offender’s name added to the victim’s bank accounts. Additionally, the offender could very likely induce the victim to change his/her will and trust documents to name the abuser as a beneficiary.
Financial exploitation of an elderly person may be difficult to recognize but there are red flags. Sudden changes in finances and accounts, altered wills and trust, unusual bank withdrawals, checks written as “gifts” or “loans,” and the loss of property are all activities that should raise suspicions. Sadly, the victim may not even be aware of the abuse and may deny the abuse. Many times, the victims will not report the abuse for a variety of reasons. For example, a victim may fear retaliation from the abuser if they tell or they may be embarrassed or ashamed of their abuser’s behavior, especially if it is a family member. It’s very possible a victim may fear no one else will take care of them if the abuse is discovered.
Financial exploitation is not uncommon. The majority of these cases are made worse by the victim’s lack of planning. The following are some recommendations to help you avoid becoming a victim:
• An important part of your estate plan should be a plan to take care of you and your dependents in the event of your incapacity. Naming a professional trustee, such as Trust Company of Oklahoma, will greatly assist in protecting you from financial exploitation.
• Interview and select a geriatric care manager to manage your personal care if that need should arise.
• Work with your attorney to carefully put your plans in writing and deliver those documents to your chosen trustee and care manager.
• Meet with your selected professionals periodically to discuss any needed updates.
If you suspect elder abuse, don’t hesitate in taking action. Call the police or Adult Protective Services. Don’t worry that you don’t have proof as it is not a necessity to file a report. Although you will be asked for your name and telephone number, you can make an anonymous report.
Most states have a toll-free hotline you can call if you have concerns that an elder is being abused, neglected or financially exploited. To report suspected elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation in Oklahoma, the number to call is 1-800-522-3511. To find out another state’s number, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse website at www.ncea.aoa.gov and select “State Resources: Helplines, Hotlines & Information”.
Retirement should be fun. You’ve worked hard and saved for this time so it is important that you protect yourself from someone taking your retirement away from you.
If you would like to discuss how Trust Company of Oklahoma can assist you in protecting yourself, please give us a call.