You’ve worked your whole life to provide for your family while saving up for the future. You are thankful, because not everyone is lucky enough to have the funds to put away for a comfortable retirement for the duration of their life.
But what happens when that money must be handed over to a guardian and you no longer have access to everything you’ve worked so hard for?
For many seniors, this is exactly what happens. The simple truth is that people are living longer, but that does not necessarily mean that are able to completely take care of themselves as they age.
Facing this reality is difficult enough, but many seniors are forced to deal with something far worse: elder fraud and exploitation. In Florida and around the country, more and more seniors are becoming victims.
What Is Elder Exploitation?
In many cases, elder fraud and exploitation begins when a senior is found to be mentally incapable of making their own decisions with regard to their finances. A circuit court will name a guardian who then holds control over the senior’s finances.
This guardian is supposed to act according to the senior’s wishes and best interests. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Sometimes guardians drain a senior’s savings for their own purposes. When this happens, they can be found guilty of elder abuse.
Sadly, elder fraud and exploitation can continue for years without justice because there is not a big focus on these crimes in Florida law enforcement. There are too few people assigned to watch how and where money is spent by guardians, which leaves fraudsters to do what they please with the accounts and assets they have control over.
In Miami-Dade County, for example, there are over 8,000 guardianship cases. With little oversight, there is potential for a lot of fraud.
How to Prevent Elder Fraud and Exploitation
The best way to prevent this from happening to you or a loved one is properly creating a thorough estate plan. In your estate plan, you can clearly state how you would like your finances to be handled, even if you are ruled as mentally incapable.
Remember to include the following documents to ensure that through every step of your life, you are receiving the money that you deserve, and living by your wishes:
- Trust – If you want to set aside money for your post-retirement years, you can set up a trust with instructions as to how and when you want this money to be spent. Trusts are easily transferrable and can be created for specific purposes, which makes it easier for your wishes to be fulfilled even after you are assigned a guardian.
- Power of Attorney – A power of attorney is a document that will dictate who will take over as your guardian if you are found to be mentally incapable of handling your legal and financial decisions. Without a power of attorney, a circuit court will have to appoint a guardian for you. And considering the current confusion and disorganization within Florida’s probate courts, you’ll be better off choosing your guardian yourself. Plus, choosing a guardian ahead of time will allow you to have clear communication with your guardian about how you want your finances and estate to be handled throughout your life and after you pass away.
- Living Will – A living will outlines your wishes for your health and financial care while you are still alive. Even if this document does not assign a guardian, it guides your guardian in the decisions they make and how they should allocate your funds.
If You or a Loved One Are a Victim
If a senior in your life is under the care of a guardian or a nursing care facility, they run the risk of being a victim of elder exploitation. The following are signs of elder fraud or exploitation:
- Frequent tension between the senior and caregiver
- Sudden changes in the senior’s behavior or personality
- Inadequate care, even when healthcare bills have been paid
- Unusual changes in estate planning or health care directive documents
- Significant withdrawals from the senior’s financial accounts
- Missing assets or cash from the senior’s possession or accounts
- Unpaid health care, although the senior has the funds to pay the bills
Elder fraud is not only tragic for victims and their loved ones, it is a crime punishable by law. Florida law defines this crime as: “Knowingly obtaining or using, or endeavoring to obtain or use, an elderly person’s or disabled adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the elderly person or disabled adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property, or to benefit someone other than the elderly person or disabled adult.”
Bring justice to your senior loved one by exposing cases of elder exploitation. By teaming up with an experienced and serious Florida attorney who specializes in guardianship administration and litigation, you can sort out through the guardianship process, determine your loved one’s wishes, and allow your loved one to live the life they worked for after their retirement.
About the Author:
Christopher Q. Wintter is the President of Wintter & Associates, P.A. , a four-lawyer trust and estate firm. Mr. Wintter is a Florida Bar Board-Certified Expert in Trust and Estate Law. With more than 28 years’ experience as a practicing attorney, he also serves as an instructor and faculty member for the National Institute of Trial Advocacy (NITA)—the nation’s leading provider of legal advocacy skills training to practicing attorneys—and has earned the AV® Preeminent™ rating with LexisNexis Martindale Hubbell. He was also selected for inclusion in Florida Super Lawyers Magazine for 2011, 2012, and 2014-2016 in Estate and Trust Litigation, and was selected for inclusion to the Best Lawyers in America in 2016 in the area of Estate and Trust Litigation.