In April 2018, U.S. Senator Susan Collins wrote a column on senior scams, stating that financial fraud against the elderly has become a “growing epidemic.” Sadly, she is right. Every year, millions of older Americans are victims to fraud. Fraud exists in many forms, such as: identity theft, financial theft, or medical identity theft.
It seems like the elderly are an easy demographic to target. Elders tend to be less judgmental; their “gut feeling” is less active and they are less aware of those who are deceitful around them. Some are cognitively impaired; meaning they can be prone to forgetting important information. According to Center for Disease Control and Prevention, “In 2013, an estimated 5 million Americans aged 65 and older have Alzheimer’s disease.” By 2050, “the prevalence may triple to as high as 13.8 million people.” The older population are less technologically savvy, meaning they could input personal information into the internet and not understand what they are clicking. Most importantly, they tend to have a lifetime’s worth of savings, be it real estate, investment accounts, retirement accounts, cash proceeds in the bank, etc.
Scammers become savages toward the elderly. Luckily, there are ways toward safeguarding their information and assets. These estate planning documents are vital for their protection and keeping scammers at bay.
1. A Health Care Surrogate
A Health Care Surrogate, also known as a Health Care Proxy, allows an individual to plan ahead for difficult medical decisions. It allows them to name someone (the “agent”) that will make health care decisions for them in case they are unable to make them themselves. This is crucial because it prevents disagreements within the family as to who should make these critical decisions. Such decisions include consenting to certain medical procedures, seeking a second opinion, obtaining medical records, or transferring them to a different medical facility.
If they don’t prepare a Health Care Surrogate document, and they fall ill and cannot make their own medical decisions, then the healthcare facility will follow Florida law to determine who is the next of kin responsible for their healthcare decisions.
In becoming a Health Care Surrogate, the agent will oversee all medical information and make better decisions that can protect the information of the elder and avoid identity theft.
2. A Power of Attorney
The Durable Power of Attorney is the best type of Power of Attorney to have because it includes delineated powers that relate to very specific abilities, This means investment powers, dealing with 401K retirement accounts, and the ability to apply for public benefits. It allows them (the “principal”) to select a person (the “agent”) to “step into their shoes” if they become mentally or physically incapacitated. Like the Health Care Surrogate, the Power of Attorney allows them to assign someone to protect their information and assets when they are not able to.
3. A Living Trust
A “Living Trust” is a primary estate-planning document that is used in place of a Last Will and Testament (“Will”). Assets are then transferred into the Trust. Trusts are used to by-pass probate. This means that upon their death, all assets in the Trust pass to the beneficiaries through the Trust, and not through any court process. Trusts can provide their beneficiaries with asset protection. Upon inheriting any monies or assets through a Trust, the beneficiary enjoys financial protection from future creditors, divorces, and bankruptcy. Living Trusts are fully revocable: the creator can change any terms or completely revoke (cancel) the Trust. Trusts are private documents that unlike Wills do not become a part of the public record. Having a Trust allows an extra layer of protection against scammers.
Our elders can also add an extra layer of protection at home. We recommend these tips:
- Shredding any confidential paperwork they receive in the mail.
- Installing anti-robocall programs to their phone.
- Using strong usernames, passwords, and security questions and answers to all accounts. “Strong” can be a combination of lowercase and uppercase letters, characters, and numbers.
- Regularly updating their security software programs on their computers or tablet devices.
- Reviewing all their monthly statements for any transactions they don’t recognize.
- Keeping an eye out for various family members and friends. The people closest to you have the easiest access to accessing and gathering your personal information.
The elderly population has worked hard all their lives to spend the rest of it enjoying the fruits of their labor. Let us help them stay on that course and avoid dangerous scammers’ techniques.