Over twenty years of downsizing seniors and working closely with their families has brought us much joy and shared satisfaction.
Unfortunately, there is a downside. Sometimes, when working with clients, family problems come to light – some quite sad and disturbing in nature. These situations involved vulnerable seniors (some with dementia or depression), family alienation and often a secretive change of both Power of Attorney and the will.
A young man, who had been adopted as a baby, moved to another city for work. He was an only child and was very close to his mom. Some opportunistic relatives, during frequent visits , repeatedly intimidated his mom (who suffered from dementia) telling her that, because he was adopted HE REALLY WASN’T FAMILY! Eventually, she wouldn’t even talk to him. The relatives had systematically alienated the mother from the son brainwashing her with the words, “THEY WERE HER ONLY FAMILY.” Through their own lawyer they had her give power of attorney to them and change her will making them sole beneficiaries. Even with the guidance of a very experienced lawyer, the son could do nothing. A horrible mess and a broken heart!
In another other case an only daughter was alienated from her mom by neighbors who had “always been there” for their friend. The neighbors ended up owning everything the mother had, including her home. The daughter is still devastated.
Financial abuse often starts slowly.
A child, a relative, a friend, a sibling, a neighbor or a care worker starts doing small errands for the senior. They often will get limited cash to pick up a few groceries. After a time, they will suggest that it would be more convenient to use their bank card or a blank check so they could pick up all the necessities. This week we actually heard of an elderly daughter going to a bank and impersonating her mother to cash her “own” check. She got away with it!!!
Like the daughter above, with success, the perpetrators get bolder and bolder and the amounts get larger and larger. It’s often a slow, calculated progression which keeps progressing!
We have seen children use the BLAME GAME. “If you had sent me to university, or had my teeth fixed…I would have had a good job and I wouldn’t be in this situation! One we heard just this week, “Because I was the oldest child most responsibilities were put on my shoulders and I didn’t have the opportunities the younger ones had!”
Then there are the constant THREATS. “If you don’t do what I WANT, I’ll have to put you in a nursing home…”
As things progress the offender begins to isolate the senior from family, friends, neighbors and even church members. For example when they call, they are told, “Your mom is busy, she is sleeping, she can’t come to the phone or go for lunch…” Meanwhile she is being told that you never call and you really don’t care, and even YOU are “taking her money.” All this is designed to make her totally dependent on that one individual who can then work on taking over Power of Attorney and can become the sole beneficiary of her estate!
When I began teaching we taught math by ROTE. “Three plus two equals five…three plus two equals five…” over and over. This is often how seniors are brainwashed. They are told the same thing over and over. It could be negative and it could be positive. “I have always been here for you…your family isn’t but I always am… I have always been here for you..your family isn’t but I always am….I have always…”
Then as outlined above they start using the bank card and are hoping to get Power of Attorney or signing rights at the bank.
We have heard of people taking an elderly lady to a doctor, out of town, to have her declared competent in order to get Power of Attorney and have her make a new will in their favor.
How can this happen???
In her 90’s, Doug’s aunt had advancing dementia and the family needed an in-home assessment done by social workers so she could move to a care facility. The ladies arrived and she made them tea and served them home baked cookies. Their assessment was she was fine in her own home. As Paul Harvey might have said, “and now, the REST OF THE STORY…” .From the time she was eight years old, part of the aunt’s routine was serving tea in tea cups, with fancy spoons and pretty napkins. Also, some neighbors had dropped off freshly baked cookies and they were on a plate on the counter ready to serve. (In our experience, people with dementia perform well if a task is routine.)
THIS IS NOT LEGAL ADVISE only suggestions from what we have observed.
What can you do?
Loneliness, lack of stimulation, motivation and purpose are major concerns . As adult children we get busy with our own lives and forget how vulnerable our loved ones are. Visits get postponed or canceled when more pressing matters come up. Make it a priority to keep in touch.
We have seen seniors who are moving suddenly have visitors (i.e. neighbors or building superintendents) who have never had time for them before , arrive at their door “with gifts of cookies” asking what they are going to do with their car or other possessions when they move. We suggest they say, “My lawyer (or son) is looking after everything.”
Be part of their life.
If you are able, just drop in unexpectedly. Bring some baking or something for a meal. If they enjoy your pet dog (or cat) occasionally bring it.
Recently we were out of town for a week and upon our return were thrilled to discover that our youngest son had painted both bathrooms for us. Many times a day we think fondly of him as we are reminded of his unexpected gift. Little surprises, including the gift of your time, are important.
Doug is turning 80 and was never interested in computers. Our son gave him a used i-pad and some days he’ll spend two or three hours during research on it. IT IS NEVER TOO LATE TO TRY AND LEARN SOMETHING NEW.
Judy’s mom lived 3000 miles away, yet she talked with her every day. She frequently sent her “thinking of you” cards. Consider setting up a Facebook account and doing Face time or setting up Skype. You can see what they are wearing and don’t be surprised if mom puts makeup on for the next “visit.” Get creative in ways you communicate.
Help them to be STREET WISE.
Bring or send a newspaper article or tell them stories about what has happened to others and say how glad you are that they are so wise. An example: “You’re not going to believe what happened to my friend’s dad…..They actually took $2000 out of his bank account..and they were “friends!”
We talked with a banker about limiting withdrawals and were told this is common with an ATM machine but harder to implement with a bank account in most places. We personally set up one of our banking accounts, in Doug’s name so that only he can access it at the bank. (There are no checking privileges.) No one can access that account but him!
A man from New Zealand had his mom set up her Power of Attorney with a lawyer so that if she had any signs of losing her faculties or signs of being under duress it could only be changed by a court order. We don’t know if that is legal in other places.
We never tell people what to do, but hope this motivates you to make decisions that are beneficial for you and you family.