Financial abuse of the elderly is running rampart in the country and is growing as the population ages. Yet, there are few consistent national standards for what financial advisors, who deal with the money elderly people have worked a lifetime to save, should do when they suspect abuse.
Thomas Fields, a resident of Mentor, Ohio, knows first hand what can happen in financial abuse cases. He has been battling the issue for more than two decades and is now asking financial advisors to assist him in his efforts to develop some kind of consistent standards.
Fields says his father was the victim of financial abuse before he died in 1991 when he was convinced to sign over his house to someone – an action he had repeatedly refused to do before he became seriously ill. The family spent thousands of dollars and countless hours trying to straighten out the mess. Fields would like others to be able to avoid this kind of problem.
Fields has lobbied for a protocol that would set out specific questions to be answered whenever financial abuse is suspected, including when someone is asked to sign financial papers while on a morphine drip.
Many states have laws mandating that suspected abuse be reported to law enforcement or to agencies that look out for the care of the elderly. Fields maintains the regulations are not adhered to or are not enforced. He has appealed to Congress to enact federal standards.
Although there are a plethora of laws and agencies designed to protect the elderly from financial abuse, many believe more controls are needed. According to recent reports, seniors lost $2.9 billion to financial exploitation in 2010 and the problem is growing. From 2008 to 2010 there was a 12 percent increase in the amount of money scammed from seniors, according to Skip Humphrey of the Office for Older Americans in the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
Financial advisor Dan Moisand, who writes a column for Financial Advisor magazine, recently did some columns on financial abuse of the elderly. His readers, mostly financial advisors, reported back on numerous situations where vulnerable seniors were conned out of their money and the financial advisors felt helpless to stop it.
“There are agencies in place to prevent abuse, but we need a check list mandated by the states to make sure abuse gets detected and that there is someone responsible to determine when there is suspicious behavior,” Fields says. Hospital certification agencies should be involved and doctors and nurses should be trained to spot problems, he says.
The questions are, among other things, who should be responsible, who should pay for the enforcement, and who should develop the checklist. Fields is asking financial advisors to weigh in on these issues and assist him in his lobbying efforts to enact the needed legislation. He asks advisors, since they are among the closest to the financial issues for their elderly clients, to contact him about how these issues can be resolved. He can be reached at [email protected], 440-255-7693, Georgetown Drive, Mentor, Oh. 44060.
“I am just concerned with the protection of the elderly,” says Fields. He has lobbied state legislators and appeared before Ohio legislative hearings, repeatedly contacted members of Congress, and appealed to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for which the aging issue is only one of many the bureau is tackling.
“Financial professionals are squarely at the forefront of the effort because fraudsters aren’t after our clients’ knickknacks,” Moisand says. “They want the money. Fields may be on to something in trying to develop a standard protocol to weed out suspected abuse.”
Fields has proposed a set of questions that he thinks should be answered whenever an elderly person in a hospital or nursing home is asked to make financial decisions. The list includes such things as whether the person is on a psychoactive drug, whether his mental capacity has been challenged in court, whether there has been any complaint of abuse and whether he or she has been diagnosed as suffering from memory loss or impaired judgment, among other questions.
Fields also wants protocol developed to document the circumstances under which any financial changes are made.
“Financial advisors might create their own task force to come up with recommendations for legal reforms that are needed to prevent the financial exploitation of individuals with severe cognitive impairment at the time they execute wills, trusts, powers of attorney, deeds, mortgages and other important legal or financial documents,” Fields concludes. This could also “discourage the ruinous litigation which often results under such circumstances.”