How Can I Protect Myself From Financial Elder Abuse?

California estate planning attorneys know that, while you can’t always protect senior citizens from becoming victims of elder abuse, having a comprehensive estate plan is an important step in the right direction.

As we age, our physical and mental capacities generally diminish, leaving elders vulnerable to physical, emotional, and financial abuse by predators. Where the ability to isolate and unduly influence a vulnerable senior with significant financial assets exists, so too does the possibility of abuse and theft.

In an ironic twist, Stan Lee, the Marvel Comics legend– who created invincible superheroes like Spiderman and X-men– has become the center of a scandal.

Los Angeles authorities are investigating whether the 95-year-old– whose estate reportedly exceeds $50 million—may have been unduly influenced and isolated by a current caregiver or susceptible to financial predators. Rumors swirl that former business associates and handlers may have “siphoned” millions of dollars from his account and that he’s being “held captive” in his own home.

Reportedly, a temporary restraining order was recently issued barring his current caretaker from “abusing, harassing or contacting Mr. Lee” and it “requires that he stay at least 100 yards away from him.” The caretaker vehemently denies any wrongdoing.

Mr. Lee’s guardian ad litem reportedly stated in court documents that Mr. Lee’s “hearing, vision, and memory impairments” and inability to “resist undue influence” of others makes him vulnerable.

One of the tools in an estate planning arsenal, which may help protect people from being taken advantage of, is a durable power of attorney. This document is part of virtually all estate plans and is particularly valuable in planning for the maker’s incapacity as a result of injury, illness, accident, or age.

A durable power of attorney allows you to appoint a trusted individual to manage your financial affairs on your behalf in the event you are unable to do so. Powers of attorney can be set up to take effect immediately or can “spring” into effect only if and when you become incapacitated. While the person you select would still have to be trustworthy, having a power of attorney is another level of protection from predators.

If you don’t sign a power of attorney when you have the mental capacity to do so, and you subsequently become incapacitated, it’s too late–your loved ones and/or others will then need to petition the court to be appointed as your guardian. The process is time-consuming and costly and may result in someone you would not have chosen yourself –or even a stranger–being appointed to handle your affairs, which is obviously not what most people would want.

Placing assets in a trust, managed by yourself and/or a trustworthy trustee and/or successor trustee, may be another way to protect assets, depending on your particular circumstances.

If you have questions regarding an initial estate plan or modifying an existing one, Biddle Law can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in San Mateo and Belmont, California, we serve clients throughout San Mateo County including San Carlos, Burlingame and Foster City.