Elder abuse can take a wide variety of forms, but I think the worst of the worst is caused by unscrupulous adult guardians appointed by a court to care for seniors who are no longer able to care for themselves. And though you may not want to believe such a thing could happen, you need to know that without the right planning in place, even the seniors in your own family could be at risk.

In fact, there are currently 1.5 million American adults under guardianship, with an estimated 85% of them over age 65. All told, these guardians control nearly $273 billion in assets. And a 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found hundreds of cases where guardians were involved in the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of seniors placed under their supervision.

Exploitation disguised as protection
Although most of the reported abuse was committed by family members, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involve professional guardians.

These predatory guardians search for seniors with a history of health issues, and they’re often able to obtain court-sanctioned guardianship with alarming ease. From there, they can force the elderly out of their homes and into assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. They can sell off their homes and other assets, keeping the proceeds for themselves. They can prevent them from seeing or speaking with their family members, leaving them isolated and even more vulnerable to exploitation.

What’s more, though it’s possible for a guardianship to be terminated by the court if it can be proven that the need for guardianship no longer exists, a study by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that such attempts typically fail. And those family members who do try to fight against court-appointed guardians frequently end up paying hefty sums of money in attorney’s fees and court costs, with some even going bankrupt in the process.

An open door for potential abuse
Obviously, not all professional guardians exploit the seniors (known as wards) placed under their care. But with the combination of the exploding elderly population—many of whom will require guardians—and our overloaded court system, such abuse will almost certainly become more common. Indeed, as the swelling aging population strains court resources, strict oversight of professional guardians is likely to become increasingly more difficult, enabling shady guardians to more easily slip through the cracks.

Facing these facts, it’s critical for both seniors and their adult children to take proactive measures to prevent the possibility of such abuse. Fortunately, there are multiple estate planning tools that can dramatically reduce the chances of you, or your elderly loved ones, being placed under the care of a professional guardian against your/their wishes.

What’s more, because any adult could face court-ordered guardianship if they become incapacitated by illness or injury, it’s crucial that every person over age 18—not just seniors—have planning vehicles in place to prepare for their potential incapacity.

Should you become incapacitated and not have the proper planning vehicles in place, your family would have to petition the court in order to be granted guardianship. And it’s this lack of planning that leaves you vulnerable. In most cases, the court would appoint a family member as guardian, but this isn’t always the case.

If you have no living family members, or those you do have are unwilling or unable to serve or deemed unsuitable by the court, a professional guardian would be appointed. And in certain cases, particularly when your family doesn’t live close by, guardianship can be granted without your loved ones—or even you—being aware of it. 

A total loss of autonomy
Once you’ve been placed under court-ordered guardianship, you essentially lose all your civil rights. Indeed, whether it’s a family member or a professional, guardians have complete legal authority to control every facet of your life.

Given the extreme power guardianship affords, courts are supposed to exercise tight oversight over adult guardians, yet the reality is that only cursory supervision is provided. What’s more, courts often don’t even keep complete records of guardianship cases, and those that do typically keep those records sealed from public view.

With no real system in place to prevent abuse by professional guardians, it’s up to you to protect yourself and your elderly parents through proactive estate planning.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

Nobody likes to admit they’ve fallen for a financial scam, but the fact is, it’s easier than ever to get caught up in one. This is especially true in today’s all-digital world, where practically every shred of data related to your personal and financial background can be found online.

While no one is forcing you to use the Internet to manage your financial accounts, purchase goods and services, or communicate with the outside world, these days it’s nearly impossible to live your life without the web. This net-based existence can feel somewhat unnerving for those of us who came of age while the tech revolution was already underway, but for the elderly, who lived the vast majority of their lives offline, it can be absolutely overwhelming.

Given their lack of tech experience, coupled with the fact that many of them are undergoing varying levels of cognitive decline and sometimes live lonely, isolated lives, scammers view seniors as easy targets. And many of today’s con artists are so sophisticated, even the most intelligent and educated can be duped.

To protect your aging loved ones (and yourself) from such predators, it’s critical to know the warning signs of financial exploitation. The following are three big red flags to watch for:

1. Unexpected requests
If a family member or friend contacts you out of the blue asking for money, especially via email or text, you should be wary. If the request comes from an unfamiliar email address or phone number, you should be extremely wary. While such requests aren’t totally unheard of, never send money unless you can verify the individual’s identity.

A popular con, known as the Grandparent Scam, involves someone calling and pretending to be your grandchild. The “grandchild” explains he or she is in trouble and needs money immediately. The caller then asks you to wire the money or give it to a third party, usually someone posing as a lawyer or police officer.

No matter how urgent the caller may sound, you should always verify their identity. One of the easiest ways to do this is by having the person call you back on his or her phone. Or if the individual’s phone is dead or lost, you can ask them questions only the actual person would know the answer to, such as the name of their first pet. If they refuse, seem unusually aggressive, or act odd, do not send money.

2. Unsolicited money-making ventures
Whether through a savvy business deal or by winning the lottery, we all fantasize about striking it rich. And if you’re retired on a fixed income, this fantasy can be all-the-more alluring. Scammers know this and will use your dreams of easy money to trick you into investing in a too-good-to-be-true venture that promises big bucks for little or no effort.

There are endless variations on this popular con, from wealthy foreign nationals needing assistance transferring money to more legitimate-sounding business deals offering huge payoffs with no risk. These messages sometimes appear as if they were sent to you accidentally, making it feel like fortune has finally favored you—just like you always dreamed it would.

But in reality, strangers don’t just randomly offer other strangers incredible money-making opportunities. What kind of trustworthy business person would seek to partner with someone they’ve never met? And if it’s such a great investment, why not recruit someone they know or simply do it themselves? Indeed, any unsolicited money-making venture you receive online from a person you don’t know is almost certainly a scam.

3. Requests for personal information
Whenever someone unfamiliar asks you for personal information like a credit card number, Social Security number, or your mother’s maiden name, proceed with extreme caution. Ask them why they need this information. Request they verify their identity. Enquire about alternate methods of proceeding that do not require such private information.

Reputable sources will respect your privacy and be more than willing to provide you with identity verification, or at least offer an alternate way for you to proceed without the need for such personal data. For example, if you receive an email request for your credit card number, look up the organization’s phone number using a source other than what they provide in the email, and ask if you can call and give your information over the phone instead.

Protect your loved ones from all possible threats
By becoming familiar with how such deceptions work and knowing what to look for, you and your loved ones will be far less likely to be conned. At the same time, you should also do everything you can to safeguard your family’s finances from other threats that have nothing to do with fraud.

Without comprehensive estate planning, your family’s wealth and assets are in real danger of being seriously depleted or lost in the event of your death or incapacity. Meet with us to learn about the best planning strategies to put in place to ensure your loved ones will be taken care of no matter what happens.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

When it comes to estate planning, most people automatically think about taking legal steps to ensure the right people inherit their stuff when they die. And these people aren’t wrong.

Indeed, putting strategies in place to protect and pass on our wealth and other assets is a fundamental part of the planning equation. However, providing for the proper distribution of our assets upon death is just one part of the process.

And it’s not even the most critical part.

Planning that’s focused solely on who gets what when you die is ignoring the fact that death isn’t the only thing to be prepared for. You must also consider that at some point before your eventual death, you could be incapcitated by accident or illness.

Incapacity can be a temporary event from which you eventually recover, or it can be the start of a long and costly event that ultimately ends in your death. Indeed, incapacity can drag out over many years, leaving you and your family in agonizing limbo. This uncertainty is what makes incapacity planning so incredibly important.

In fact, incapacity can be a far greater burden for your loved ones than your death. This is true not only in terms of its potentially ruinous financial costs, but also for the emotional trauma, contentious court battles, and internal conflict your family may endure if you fail to address it in your plan. 

The goal of effective estate planning is to keep your family out of court and out of conflict no matter what happens. So if you only plan for your death, you’re leaving your family—and yourself—extremely vulnerable to potentially tragic consequences.

Where to start
Planning for incapacity requires a different mindset and different tools than planning for death. If you’re incapacitated by illness or injury, you’ll still be alive when these planning strategies take effect. What’s more, the legal authority you grant others to manage your incapacity is only viable while you remain alive and unable to make decisions about your own welfare.

If you regain the cognitive ability to make your own decisions, for instance, the legal power you granted others is revoked. The same goes if you should eventually succumb to your condition—your death renders these powers null and void.

To this end, the first thing you should ask yourself is, “If I’m ever incapacitated and unable to care for myself, who would I want making decisions on my behalf?” Specifically, you’ll be selecting the person, or persons, you want making your healthcare, financial, and legal decisions for you until you either recover or pass away.

You must name someone
The most important thing to remember is that you must choose someone. If you don’t legally name someone to make these decisions during your incapacity, the court will choose someone for you. And this is where things can get extremely difficult – and costly – for your loved ones.

This potential turmoil and expense can be easily avoided through proper estate planning. An effective plan would give the individuals you’ve chosen immediate authority to make your medical, financial, and legal decisions, without the need for court intervention. What’s more, the plan can provide clear guidance about your wishes, so there’s no mistake or conflict about how these vital decisions should be made.

What won’t work
Determining which planning tools you should use to grant and guide this decision-making authority depends entirely on your personal circumstances. There are several options available, but choosing what’s best is something you should ultimately decide after consulting with an experienced lawyer.

That said, we can tell you one planning tool that’s totally worthless when it comes to your incapacity: a will. A will only goes into effect upon your death, and then it merely governs how your assets should be divided, so having a will does nothing to keep your family out of court and out of conflict in the event of your incapacity.

Don’t let a bad situation become much worse
You may be powerless to prevent your potential incapacity, but proper estate planning can at least give you control over how your life and assets will be managed if it does occur. Moreover, such planning can prevent your family from enduring needless trauma, conflict, and expense during this already trying time.

If you’ve yet to plan for incapacity, we can counsel you on the proper planning vehicles to put in place, and help you select the individuals best suited to make such critical decisions on your behalf. If you already have planning strategies in place, we can review your plan to make sure it’s been properly set up, maintained, and updated. Contact us today to get started.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,

sandwich generationThe average age of parents raising children in the US continues to rise, leaving many middle-aged Americans in a category commonly referred to as the “sandwich” generation.

This growing population of professionals are often still raising kids at home when they become responsible for the care of their own aging parents. The stress and financial strain of managing the affairs of both children and parents can easily become overwhelming. The following tips, however, can help make this challenging stage of life manageable if not more enjoyable.

Assess the Financial Situation. Taking time to thoroughly understand the financial picture for your own household is imperative as you step into a role of responsibility for your aging parents. Prepare for the inevitable and avoid surprises by working with a professional to consider how your role in the care of your parent will affect the plans you are making for your family’s financial future. You’ll want a comprehensive planning process that ensures your legal, financial and insurance needs are covered appropriately.

Plan Ahead. Benjamin Franklin famously said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” Planning for your family’s future means preparing for the worst and hoping for the best. As you move through helping your aging parent with important Estate Planning decisions, take time to be sure your own wishes are legally binding as well. Be sure to include:

  • Medical power of attorney – appoints a person to make medical decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Durable power of attorney – designates a person to make financial decisions if you are unable to do so
  • Living will – expresses your wishes for end of life decisions
  • Will – carries out your wishes in the event of your death
  • Kids Protection Plan – designates a legal guardian for your minor children in the event of your incapacitation or death

Pay Attention to Red Flags. Even if your aging parent is still quite capable, work together to assess their financial situation carefully and be on the lookout for signs that anything is falling through the cracks. Common red flags are:

  • Frequent calls from creditors
  • Forgetfulness when it comes to bills and deadlines
  • Unopened mail

Utilize professional legal and financial support when necessary and communicate clearly so everyone knows who is responsible for what.

Practice Good Self Care. Stress is one of the most common consequences of caring for two generations at once. Balancing the responsibilities of raising children and caring for aging parents with relaxation and play is vital over the long-haul. Remember that adequate rest and good nutrition will provide you with the extra energy you’ll need when times get tough. Most importantly, remember that you don’t have to do it alone! Establish a relationship with trusted advisors who are ready to assist you when duty calls.

For example, if you schedule a Family Legacy Planning Session with us, we’ll review your current financial situation in light of your future responsibilities. With our assistance, you’ll gain the confidence of knowing you’re making the most empowered, informed and educated legal and financial decisions for yourself and the ones you love. Begin by calling our office today to schedule a Family Legacy Planning Session and mention this article to find out how to get this $750 session at no charge.

Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and securing your legacy,

Marc Garlett 91024