By Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney Rick Law. Rick is the founder and managing partner of the multi-generation law of at Law Elder Law – Serving seniors and their families in the West suburbs of Chicago.
A big reason scams work on seniors so often is because seniors are so trusting. Because they trust people, they don’t want to say, “I don’t know who you are. Where’s your car? I don’t see your vehicle. Let me see your identification.” They’ll think they’ll offend them, so they won’t ask them.
They’ll just let them in their home.
There is also a fear of retaliation with elderly victims. There could be a fear of going to court and being unfamiliar with where to go and what to do. However, the main reason most seniors don’t want to contact the police is because they are embarrassed.
Some financial exploitation doesn’t start out as a scam. Elderly individuals suffering from dementia who forget to pay their bills or taxes can also become victims of financial exploitation.
Unfortunately for many seniors who have lost their ability to handle their bills, legislators have put into place real estate tax and judgment creditor collection laws based on the assumption that the debtor has the legal capacity of a fully functional 30-year-old adult. Professional real estate tax and debt collection scavengers have developed profitable systems to acquire homes from the vulnerable.
Take Maxine for example…
Maxine was in the early stages of dementia. She owned a house with her husband and had lived in that house for 20 years. Their mortgage was paid off, and Maxine’s husband always paid the bills and took care of the financial matters until he died. Maxine’s dementia worsened. At one point, the police found her wandering naked in the streets on a freezing January night.
Maxine was put in a hospital and while she was hospitalized, Maxine’s property taxes were sold to a tax scavenger for nonpayment. The unpaid property taxes were less than $350 but the scavenger forced a tax deed sale of Maxine’s home for the nonpayment of the taxes. The notices of the tax deed sale were sent to Maxine’s home, but she was residing at a state mental health hospital. The mailman was aware of her hospitalization and returned the tax sale notices to the sender with the notation “Person is hospitalized” written on the envelopes.
No one ever contacted the mailman or anyone else at the post office about the returned envelopes. Even though the scavenger knew that the notices of the tax deed sale of Maxine’s longtime home had been returned undelivered, and even though important clues as to Maxine’s whereabouts were written on the faces of the returned envelopes, the scavenger proceeded with the forced tax lien sale and obtained a tax deed to Maxine’s home.
The trial judge involved in the forced tax sale would later testify in an affidavit that if this information had been disclosed to him, he would not have approved the forced sale.
Shortly after the tax sale, the Office of Public Guardian was appointed guardian on behalf of Maxine. Her guardian immediately moved to vacate the tax deed and argued that Maxine had never received the returned notices that she was about to lose her home due to unpaid taxes. The guardian also presented uncontroverted expert medical evidence that, even if Maxine had received the notices, she would not have been able to understand their import or act to protect herself, due to her mental illness.
The guardian further argued that the scavenger was obligated to follow up on the notations on the returned envelopes and that the notations on the returned notices, along with the fact that a valuable house with no mortgage, liens, or encumbrances was being lost over a mere $347 in unpaid taxes, put the scavenger on notice that something was amiss.
After a lengthy trial, the court denied the motion to vacate the tax deed. The court agreed that Maxine did not receive the notices. The court also agreed with the expert witness psychiatrist that, even if she had received the notices, Maxine would not have been able to understand their meaning or to act. However, the court held that, although the scavenger was on notice that Maxine was hospitalized, he was not on notice that she was hospitalized due to a mental disability.
In addition, the court opined that the scavenger was under no legal obligation to follow up on the information on the returned notices. The state appellate court and state supreme court both affirmed the trial court’s decision. Maxine lost her home over a $347 missed payment.
If you’re ready to start getting your estate in order and secure your assets for the “worst-case” scenario, please give our office a call at 800-310-3100. Your first consultation is absolutely free. We’ll let you know what steps you need to take, right now, to protect yourself and your family. Call now.
Rick L. Law, Attorney, Estate Planner for Retirees.
Rick was named the #1 Illinois elder law estate planning attorney by Leading Lawyer Magazine. He has been quoted in the Wall Street Journal, AARP Magazine, TheStreet.com, and numerous newspapers and articles. Rick is the lead attorney for Law Elder Law, LLP, focusing in Estate Planning, Guardianship, and Nursing Home Solutions. His goal is to give retirees an informed edge when it comes to dealing with an uncertain future. Get flexible retirement strategies that work during good times and bad, plus information on how you can save your home and assets from being used to pay for long term care. Call 800-310-3100 for your free consultation now!