An issue of growing concern in the financial industry is that of financial elder abuse. Whether it is probes by scam artists or pressure from so-called caretakers or even undue influence by family members, the elderly are often targets and victims of what is nothing more than theft. The elderly may have much wealth or little wealth – that does not matter. A common thread is the desire of predators to take advantage of emotional, mental or physical weakness to obtain money and goods from their elderly targets.
One line of defense for the elderly is the family and friends who are not trying to take advantage and who both know and will help the elderly relative or friend. Another line of defense should be those persons – accountants, financial advisers, attorneys – who perform financial or related work for an elderly client. These professionals should be well informed about their clients’ financial situation as well as, to some extent, the family situation and intentions and worries of their clients. This knowledge provides a unique and important opportunity to serve their clients in a less traditional way. There may also be a legal duty for these professionals to report and act on possible financial elder abuse.
When a client suddenly has a need for a large amount of cash, or needs a transfer of funds to cover a check, the adviser as fiduciary, friend and adviser should speak with the client to verify the need and the situation. A client with a comprehensive financial plan will have shared his or her goals with the adviser as well as planned for any significant withdrawals and expenses. Something that does not square with the client’s planning should be a red flag to the adviser.
There are a myriad of federal, state and local government agencies which, at least in theory, will be able to help investigate and address instances of financial elder abuse. In addition, banks and other financial institutions recognize the existence of this problem and are on board to address it. As a client, remember that there are resources there to help you if there is a question about a financial transaction. You should never have to get money fast for anything – any legitimate business or person will allow you time to make a decision and even to rescind a transaction. Don’t hesitate to call on your adviser or your bank for help and advice.