By Elder Law and Estate Planning Attorney Rick Law. Kane County Public Guardian and founder of the multi-generational law firm at Law Elder Law. Serving seniors, boomers and their families in Aurora, IL.
Linda Voirin, a licensed social worker at the Kane County (Illinois) State’s Attorney Office, is a victim advocate specifically for seniors and people with disabilities. She believes that about 75 percent of the elderly victims she sees are suffering from some sort of vulnerability because of aging. Many times that vulnerability does not render the victim legally incapacitated.
Often the vulnerability is mental, but sometimes it is physical.
Voirin explains that physical vulnerability doesn’t just mean a physical disability that can be seen. It can also mean that people are not able to do things they used to do, like going to the bank. Or there could be vision loss so they ask someone else to fill out checks to pay their bills. That vision loss opens up a door for someone else to take advantage of them without them ever knowing it.
It isn’t easy for lawyers to always notice the declining mental abilities of their senior clients, because it is such a gray area. Voirin notes that the legal and medical communities need to develop better tools to figure this out. Without better tools, too many vulnerable seniors are left with no legal protection when vulnerability leaves them defenseless.
Voirin says: “The reality is there has been changes in the brain and some of those changes are important changes having to do with decision making, which I would think any private attorney needs to verify that it has not been affected. Because with changes in the brain, in the frontal cortex, they can sit and have tea and coffee and talk about the sports, Fox News, and everything else, but yet, when it comes to their checkbook, they may not be able to understand as well as they have in the past. They will not tell you they are forgetful and confused, but someone living with them will be able to identify it and begin to take advantage of it.”
These changes to the senior’s brain help explain why people that no one ever would have expected are giving money away to the Canadian lottery or all these other scams. Ten years earlier, they would have said, “Are you kidding me? What are you thinking? Of course it’s a scam.” But now, all of a sudden, many things are believable to them, because of changes in the brain.
If an unscrupulous caregiver is taking care of a person with Alzheimer’s and says, “You owe me $6,000 for this week because I did just a few extra loads of laundry,” that person isn’t going to hesitate before paying someone far more than what should be paid. It is even easier just to fill out a check for $6,000 and put it in front of seniors to sign—they often will.
Shay Jacobson, a registered nurse and president of Lifecare Innovations, Inc., points out that practitioners need to be looking for red flags in their elderly clients’ behavior. One such red flag is that people that have early-stage Alzheimer’s may have difficulty with sequencing. They cannot remember which child was born first, second, or third. They can’t remember what year they were married. People in the early stages of Alzheimer’s also usually have more difficulty with short-term memory deficits than long-term. So they’ll make appointments and then they’ll call the office five times to verify the appointment. Each time they call, they will have no recollection of already having called.
Officer Cherie Aschenbrenner laments the fact that there is very little that the police can do to protect the vulnerable elderly until they are actually incapacitated. In cases where an elderly person is being financially exploited by a child, about all that can be done is to give the person a Mini Mental Status Exam (MMSE) and try to prove the need for a guardianship. Then hopefully somebody honest in the family would take over.
The law is not going to protect someone with capacity from making bad mistakes. If people have the legal capacity, they are free to make bad mistakes.
If your loved one has memory problems and you’re afraid of the consequences that may bring, give our office a call today 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!