There are currently three known cases of identity theft in Tazewell County, IL alone in which the accused stole thousands of dollars from their elderly parents.
Many older individuals trust their grown children to handle their finances responsibly and use their savings to pay for medical care and nursing home expenses. Unfortunately, responsible decisions are not always made. For example, 37-year-old Tina Roten used her mother’s Social Security information and name to open a credit card, on which she charged over $10,000. Her mother found out about the charges only after her credit tanked. In the other cases, family members have discovered financial abuse after their loved one’s bank accounts were drained to only a few dollars. If convicted, those accused could face up to 15 years in prison.
Sadly, older Americans are prime targets for identity theft, and far too frequently are victims of their own family members. If you or another member of your family has been a victim of elder financial abuse, contact the lawyers of Peck Ritchey, LLC, at (855) 328-5787 so we can help end the abuse.
Over the past year, Chicago litigation lawyer Tim Ritchey has met with members of the Chicago probate community, as well as state legislators, to discuss modifying sections 755 ILCS 5/2-6.2 and 5/2-6.6 of the Illinois Probate Act of 1975. After speaking before the Illinois Congress, SB2955 was approved and signed by Gov. Quinn, which helps extend remedies for victims of financial exploitation.
Under the revised statute, civil or criminal findings of financial exploitation will affect the abuser’s ability to receive any benefit from the Estate upon the passing of the victim. For all purposes of administration they would be treated as predeceased.
While it is always unfortunate to learn that a client has become a victim of financial exploitation, the new statute aims to offer another remedy to the aggrieved party and his/her family and beneficiaries. By understanding the new statute, attorneys are in a position to aid their clients and their families when such an issue arises.
Once again, our blog draws us into another news story making headlines and reminding us no senior is safe from exploitation.
Forbes contributors Danielle and Andy Mayoras wrote a recent article on L’Oreal heiress Liliane Bettencourt being determined mentally unfit to manage her affairs by the French court. Before the ruling, Bettencourt had already been financially exploited, with more than one billion dollars being stolen from her estate by her photographer and close friend. She had also changed her will in the process leaving everything to this close friend and had not been paying taxes on her money. The court appointed Bettencourt’s children to control her estate.
According to the article, Bettencourt is number 15 on Forbe’s billionaires list. Yet, even with all the money in the world to hire attorneys and financial planners- she was taken advantage of. Therefore, lets take a look at some of the obstacles Bettencourt faced, that most seniors do, and how you can protect and prepare yourself.
The person exploiting Bettencourt was a “close friend”
This may come as a suprise to you, but it is not the unknown criminal that is robbing our seniors. Most abuse cases are perpetrated by the people closest to the the senior: caretakers, children, and friends. While you are creating your estate plan, remember: who do you trust to make decisions that are best for YOU and cares more about YOU and YOUR well being rather than your money. Also, update your estate plan every few years- circumstances change!
Bettencourt does not want her daughter to control her estate
No one wants to lose control of making their own decisions. Guardianship trials can often tear families apart deciding whether mom or grandma really needs a guardian – and if so, who should it be? Although the senior you love may not agree with you dragging them into court, keep reminding yourself, and them- it is for their best interest. Also remember, even though you are guardian, you should still consider what your loved one prefers- where does SHE want to live? What would SHE want to do with her money? (i.e. art classes, caregiver preferences.)
Bettencourt changed her will leaving everything to her photographer/close friend
Often a diagnosis of dementia can come AFTER it is revealed that someone has been financially exploited or unduly influenced to change their will. This is where it is imperative that we take a look at the ethics of the attorney who agreed to draft a new estate plan when the creator did not have capacity. Also, who were the witnesses present? These issues all can come up in court during the guardianship trial or even after death in a will contest.
Bettencourt had not been paying taxes on her money
Often without a guardian or power of attorney, seniors with dementia can get into a lot of financial trouble on their own. They can forget to pay their bills, mortgage and/or taxes. If you have a loved one who is independent, you have several options to ensure their finances are being remembered. There are companies you can hire that will work with seniors just to pay bills. Also, a power of attorney for property can also authorize a TRUSTED loved one to assist with finances. If the senior already has dementia, guardianship is the best option to ensure all their financial decisions are taken care of.
*For the full Forbes article, CLICK HERE.
I just wanted to make readers aware of the Chicago Sun Times headline today: “Cops Warn of ‘Sweetheart Scams.'” Reporter Lauren Fitzgerald interviewed several families in the city of Chicago whose older adult loved ones were swindled out of their savings by ‘Romanian Gypsies’.
Although the Chicago Sun Times is pushing this as ‘breaking news,’ as an elder law attorney I see it everyday and unfortunately, when the family is already in crisis mode. Clients come to our office after their father or grandfather has already been scammed out of thousands of dollars through gifts, forged checks, or false powers of attorney. As a caretaker of an older adult, always take into consideration that the “bad people” of the world may not always be in robbers garb, but could be the kind woman at church who has taken a recent interest in a widowed elderly man, or the maid who has access to the older adult’s home and can come and go as she pleases. Independent seniors, simply looking for companionship, can be vulnerable to these attacks. Elder abuse comes in all shapes and sizes.
Always contact a Chicago elder attorney if you suspect financial exploitation. Even if financial exploitation has not occurred, contact a Chicago elder law attorney to offer ways to plan ahead to protect and monitor the older adult’s estate. Peck Ritchey was hired by the City of Chicago to help re-write the Elder Abuse and Neglect Act and has years of experience fighting financial exploitation of older adults in the courtroom.
For the full Chicago Sun Times Article, please click here.