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May 12, 2012

The Senior Con: With Age Comes those Who Try to Take Financial Advantage of It

 The Senior Con: With age comes those who try to take financial advantage of it.
By Kate Moser
May 10, 2012

Senior citizens – even those who believed they were financially prepared for retirement – have been among the hardest hit in the economic downturn. And the financial stressors that Monterey County seniors face are what most likely trigger their referral for legal services.

Clients having a hard time making mortgage payments or having problems with landlords over evictions are two high-impact areas where Teresa Sullivan, executive director of the advocacy group Alliance on Aging, has seen an acute need during the recession.

The nonprofit Alliance will often refer people to Legal Services for Seniors, an organization that’s been providing free legal help to senior citizens in Monterey County since 1985. Lawyers there can help clients with most areas of civil law: healthcare and insurance, housing, public benefits, consumer protection, financial and physical elder abuse, wills and advanced healthcare directives.

Financial elder abuse is an area of particular concern these days, given the prevalence of mortgage fraud, Legal Services for Seniors Executive Director Kellie Morgantini says. Some seniors were duped into losing their homes when opportunistic lenders offered them bad loans and glossed over the fine print.

“Those folks who have worked really hard all their lives are looked at as really ripe for the unscrupulous part of the community to get their assets away from them,” Morgantini says.

Other seniors are unwittingly paying rent to landlords who have already gotten foreclosure notices from the bank. Lawyers in private practice who specialize in elder law say they’re seeing a similar uptick.

“We are seeing a ton of financial abuse of the elderly,” says Frank Hespe, an attorney and former executive director of Legal Services for Seniors who’s now in private practice. “Elderly folks, maybe more than any other single population, have played by the rules. They have dutifully saved; they collectively have more financial resources than any other age segment. And because of that, bad guys have a tendency to focus on seniors and try to prey upon them to steal or get their resources away from them.”

Hespe offers a classic example of financial abuse of the elderly: An unscrupulous character befriends a vulnerable senior (who may have lost a loved one or is starting to show signs of dementia), pretends to help them, worms his or her way into the senior’s life, and then attempts to be named on a house or in a will. “They look at the senior citizen as one gigantic piggy bank and they slowly start to take their resources away,” Hespe says.

In one high-profile case, Hespe represented a Carmel doctor who sued his former caregiver after his millions evaporated, the bank foreclosed on his home and he had to move into a nursing home.

Yvonne Ascher, a lawyer in private practice in Monterey, said she urges her clients to plan for incapacity rather than bury their heads in the sand. “If you’re more proactive, you have more choices than if you’re reactive,” she says.

Looking for a way to start? The Alliance on Aging, among other programs, offers free help with navigating Medicare, and its Boomer Education 101 class covers the gamut on preparing for retirement. 


 Tips To Prevent Bamboozling:

1. Watch for telltale signs of financial abuse of an elder: Isolation, for example, which occurs when a caregiver separates a senior citizen from friends, family or a support network. 

2. When a senior citizen is asked to sign a legal document, always have a neutral person review them.

3. Watch for potential memory problems, which could lead to a senior signing documents they don’t understand.

4. Heed that classic warning: “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

 SOURCE:      The Monterey County Weekly

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