The upcoming release of the new film Avengers: Endgame, is a reminder of the legacy of comic book icon Stan Lee. On November 12, 2018, comic icon Stan Lee passed away at age 95. His influence across entertainment and comics spread far and wide, but it was at Marvel that he built his reputation and career.
Stan Lee, who co-created such epochal characters as, the X-Men, Spider Man, the Hulk, Black Panther, and the Fantastic Four, has an estate reportedly appraised at roughly $50 million dollars. Unfortunately, memory, hearing and vision impairments made Mr. Lee susceptible to undue influence in his later years.
Family, caregivers, and business associates were allegedly trying to unduly influence Mr. Lee to gain control of his property — something that experts believe will be a growing epidemic as more and more people live into their 90s and 100s but may not have the capability to manage their legal and financial affairs.
Scammers perceive the elderly as easy targets. Consequently, financial exploitation occurs in different ways, ranging from fake lottery schemes, investment scams, identity theft, credit card misuse, forged checks, power of attorney abuse and living trust scams. Sadly, many predators of financial abuse are considered to be close family or friends. According to The National Center on Elder Abuse, 90 percent of the culprits are people the victims know well or family members. To protect yourself and your family members against financial exploitation, it is crucial to spot the warning signs. Here’s what to look out for:
- Physiological Decline: Mental deterioration is not the only thing that makes an aging person more susceptible to financial exploitation. Often, older adults have decreased mobility or physical strength and are no longer able to properly maintain their home the way they used to. This situation usually leads older adults to hire someone for minor repairs or maintenance issues. Most contractors do legitimate work, but a few unscrupulous contractors may take advantage of the situation and offer services for nonexistent repairs. The result can be a huge home repair bill or even several monthly charges for nonexistent repairs.
- No Recollection of Major Financial Transactions: Another red flag is when an older individual who was previously sharp and engaged begins to show a serious lack of memory about important matters. For instance, a person may not remember making a down payment on a car or writing a check for a large amount.
- Sketchy Relatives: People who financially abuse the elderly come from all walks of life, but many financial exploiters fit a profile. According to a report in the New England Journal of Medicine, culprits are most likely to be spouses or adult children, they are more likely to be male, have a history of substance abuse, have physical or mental health issues, have problems with the law, to be socially isolated, unemployed, or undergoing a stressful situation.
- Isolation: If no family members live nearby and no friends regularly visit, it becomes much easier for strangers to step in and “befriend” a senior for financial gain.
Use your “Super” Powers
In addition to heeding these warning signs; it is important to have a solid estate plan in place in the event you or your loved one can no longer manage your financial and legal affairs. Revocable trusts and durable powers of attorney are effective tools in an estate planning attorney’s tool kit, but if drafted improperly or if unscrupulous trustees or agents are designated, can have devastating financial consequences. For instance, a durable power of attorney may contain what are called “super powers” or specific grants of authority, which include: (1) the power to amend, modify, revoke, or terminate a trust created by the Principal (the aging individual), (2) the power to create an inter vivos trust, (4) the power to create or change beneficiary designations, and (5) the power to create or change rights of survivorship. In line with the phrase “with great power comes great responsibility” it is vital to choose your agent very carefully while limiting certain powers to minimize the potential for abuse.
Choosing the right attorney is just as important as choosing the right trustee and the right agent to ensure your wishes are carried out. If you notice major changes in your designated agent’s life, you may want to re-evaluate whether they are best suited to carry out your wishes. If your agent is experiencing financial distress in their own lives then they may not be able to focus on handling your affairs if the need ever arises.
Furthermore, if you suspect elder financial exploitation, do not hesitate to confront the miscreant. Florida law requires the reporting of suspected or known neglect, self-neglect, abuse, or exploitation of vulnerable adults (disabled or elderly). The Florida Abuse Hotline receives reports 24 hours a day. Call 1-800-962-2873 or 1-800-96-ABUSE. You can also report online at https://reportabuse.dcf.state.fl.us.
Contact OC Estate & Elder Law at (954) 251-0332 or email@example.com to learn how effective estate planning, asset protection, and Medicaid planning can help shield your family from financial villains.