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The Holidays are the Perfect Time to Protect Aging Family Members from Financial Exploitation

Posted on November 15th, 2022

Our Lake Norman attorneys at Daly Mills Estate Planning know that most North Carolina families are reuniting this holiday season, after two years of paused events thanks to COVID-19. Holiday dinners, parties, and other celebrations with friends and family are the perfect time to take a sharp look at your elders — and how their health, well-being, and finances are faring.

This is especially true for their finances. Why? Because the holidays are an opportune time for those who have a different plan to act.

Elder financial abuse around the holidays increases for multiple reasons. First, holidays allow scammers — including both those known and unknown to the victims — to capitalize on the generosity of elders.

Older adults are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse during the holidays by family members and/or caregivers who exaggerate their financial shortcomings, and how they will impact their ability to provide a true holiday experience for their families.

Other circumstances might be due to the increase in the frequency of visitors in and out of their homes, money flowing more freely, and distractions that take them out of their normal routines.

Aging relatives may also fall victim to frauds and scams perpetrated by people they do not know, posing as representatives for charities.

No matter who may be behind the deceit and emotional manipulation of the elder, the reality is, up to five million older Americans are financially abused every year, and the annual loss by victims of financial abuse is estimated to be at least $36.5 billion, according to the National Coalition on Aging.

Here are a few ways you can help identify elder financial abuse and put a stop to it.

What are the Most Common Signs of Elder Financial Abuse in North Carolina?

The U.S. Department of Justice understands the gravity of elder financial abuse in North Carolina and throughout the rest of the country, and has provided tips for identifying when someone you love may be at risk.

They include:

  • Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents.
  • Fraudulent signatures on financial documents.
  • Substandard care or bills left unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources.
  • Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives.
  • The inclusion of additional names on an older adult’s ATM or credit cards.
  • The provision of unnecessary services.
  • Unexplained disappearance of valuable possessions.
  • Unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family.
  • Unusual or sudden changes in spending patterns, bank accounts and banking practices — like unexplained cash withdrawals.

If you believe something is amiss in your elder relative’s finances, ask him or her about it in private. Although the holidays are a time of gathering, making unfounded — even when your suspicions may be true — accusations in a group setting may only drive a wedge between you and your elder. This is especially true if you are not there to see the day-to-day activities. Speak with your relative and investigate any potential avenues of abuse, then seek help from an attorney to learn about your legal rights and options to put a stop to the abusive behavior.

How Can I Help My Elder Avoid Being a Victim of Financial Abuse?

One of the best ways to help prevent elder financial abuse is to have your loved one designate a financial power of attorney with the help of an experienced Elder Law attorney. Depending on your family dynamics, it may be smart to choose two people who can share the responsibility and hold each other accountable.

This requires a hands-on approach. Review your elder loved one’s expenses regularly and cancel any unnecessary expenditures that are being automatically deducted from their accounts.

Review their Will or Trust to ensure no predatory changes were made while no one was watching and ensure your loved one understands the decisions they have made.

Explain in clear terms that they are not to give any personal information to other family members or strangers, whether it is in person or over the phone. If they are being asked for money, instruct them to send the person requesting the funds in the financial power of attorney’s direction.

Next, ensure their financial institutions have a trusted contact name and number on file, so they can immediately reach out if they believe there is questionable activity on any of their accounts. This will typically be the financial power of attorney, but if they cannot get ahold of one person, having a second line of defense is important.

While you are establishing safeguards, lean on technology for help. Keeping an eye on your loved one’s accounts online can help identify any changes in spending behaviors, which is usually the first sign of elder financial abuse. You can also sign your loved one up for identity theft protection, should their important personal details fall into the wrong hands.

Finally, be sure you know and trust your loved one’s caregivers and stay in touch with their activities. We know it is easy to allow a caregiver to take the lead in caring for your loved ones. But staying personally involved — and not just reviewing their finances on holidays — will help you stay ahead of any fraudulent behaviors, so you know they are financially protected.

Contact Our Skilled Lake Norman Estate Planning Attorneys for Help

To learn more about how we can help you outline your loved one’s assets, establish financial powers of attorney, or design a will or trust that fits their unique needs, call us at (704) 286-8437 to schedule an initial consultation with our estate planning attorneys in Lake Norman, North Carolina today. Contact Our Mooresville estate planning lawyers for more legal help.