Estate Planning Blog Articles

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Scammers Try to Take Senior for a Ride

An 80-year-old woman figured out she was being scammed before going to the bank, after receiving an email from fraudsters who hired an Uber to take her there.

However, the story is a stark reminder of the extent to which thieves will go to scam the elderly, says Krebs on Security’s recent article entitled “Scammers Sent Uber to Take Elderly Lady to the Bank.”

Travis Hardaway said his mother last month replied to an email she received regarding an appliance installation from BestBuy. He said the timing of the scam email couldn’t have been worse, since his mom’s dishwasher had just died. She’d paid to have a new one delivered and installed.

“I think that’s where she got confused, because she thought the email was about her dishwasher installation,” Hardaway said.

Hardaway said his mom initiated a call to the phone number listed in the phony BestBuy email. The scammers told her she owed $160 for the installation, which seemed about right. However, they then asked her to install remote administration software on her computer, so that they could control the machine from afar and assist her in making the payment.

After she logged into her bank and savings accounts with scammers watching her screen, the fraudster on the phone claimed that instead of pulling $160 out of her account, they accidentally transferred $160,000 to her account. They said they needed her help to make sure the money was “returned.”

“They took control of her screen and said they had accidentally transferred $160,000 into her account,” Hardaway said. “The person on the phone told her he was going to lose his job over this transfer error, that he didn’t know what to do. So, they sent her some information about where to wire the money and asked her to go to the bank. However, she told them, ‘I don’t drive,’ and they told her, “No problem, we’re sending an Uber to come help you to the bank.’”

Her son was out of town when this happened. Thankfully, his mom eventually grew exasperated and gave up trying to help the scammers.

“They told her they were sending an Uber to pick her up and that it was on its way,” Hardaway said. “I don’t know if the Uber ever got there. However, my mom went over to the neighbor’s house and they saw it for what it was — a scam.”

Hardaway said he has since wiped her computer, reinstalled the operating system and changed her passwords. However, he says the incident has left his mom rattled.

“She’s really second-guessing herself now,” Hardaway said. “She’s not computer-savvy, and just moved down here from Boston during COVID to be near us, but she’s living by herself and feeling isolated and vulnerable, and stuff like this doesn’t help.”

According to the FBI, seniors are often the targets of scams because they tend to be trusting and polite. They also usually have financial savings, own a home and have good credit—all of which make them attractive to scammers.

“Additionally, seniors may be less inclined to report fraud because they don’t know how, or they may be too ashamed of having been scammed,” the FBI warned in May. “They might also be concerned that their relatives will lose confidence in their abilities to manage their own financial affairs. And when an elderly victim does report a crime, they may be unable to supply detailed information to investigators.”

Reference: Krebs on Security (Aug. 4, 2022) “Scammers Sent Uber to Take Elderly Lady to the Bank”

What’s Going on with Marvel Comics Creator Stan Lee’s Estate?

According to a court document filed recently, comic book icon Stan Lee’s estate moved to dismiss claims against Lee’s former business manager, Jerardo “Jerry” Olivarez. Terms of the deal weren’t disclosed. The settlement doesn’t include claims against Lee’s former attorney, Uvi Litvak.

The Hollywood Reporter’s recent article entitled “Stan Lee’s Estate Settles Elder Abuse Suit Against Ex-Business Manager” explains that the four-year legal saga, sparked by The Hollywood Reporter‘s investigation detailing accusations of elder abuse, centers on a fight over Lee’s estate. The battle includes his daughter, J.C., and people who allegedly manipulated her in efforts to exploit her famous father. Lee accused J.C., his only child and heir to his estate, of verbally abusing him.

J.C.’s outbursts turned physical at some points in conflicts over money, reports say.

The executive vice president and publisher of Marvel Comics, Stan Lee sued Olivarez and Litvak in 2018, calling them “unscrupulous businessmen, sycophants and opportunists” seeking to take advantage of him following the death of his wife, Joan Lee. Olivarez joined Stan’s inner circle as a consultant to J.C. and Joan’s various business endeavors before ending up with power of attorney over Lee after Joan’s death. He was given the title of “senior adviser,” handling caregiving duties for Lee.

“Jerry Olivarez and JC Lee, Stan and Joan Lee’s only daughter and Trustee of the Lee Family Trust, are happy to announce the resolution of their Court dispute,” said Olivarez’s attorney Donald Randolph in a statement. “The genesis of this dispute was the unfortunate manipulation of Stan Lee and his family undertaken by certain individuals — not named in the lawsuit — which was intended to unfairly malign Jerry Olivarez. These individuals exerted undue influence on the Lee family to accuse Jerry Olivarez of harmful acts which he did not do.”

According to the complaint, Olivarez fired Stan Lee’s banker of 26 years along with his lawyers and transferred roughly $4.6 million out of his bank account without authorization. After convincing Lee to sign a power of attorney to give him authority, Olivarez allegedly appointed his own lawyer, Livtak, as Lee’s lawyer without disclosing the conflict of interest.

Prior to his death, Lee alleged fraud, financial abuse of an elder and misappropriation of name and likeness, among other claims.

“Olivarez abused his relationship of trust with Lee and JC Lee, knowledge of Lee’s and JC Lee’s confidential business and estate planning operations, and ability to mislead Lee due to his advanced age all in a covert and intentional effort to dupe Lee into a host of schemes and financial missteps that benefited Olivarez and disenfranchised Lee,” reads the complaint.

Reference: The Hollywood Reporter (July 27, 2022) “Stan Lee’s Estate Settles Elder Abuse Suit Against Ex-Business Manager”

Can I Avoid Financial Exploitation?

AARP’s recent article entitled “The Legal Consequences of Elder Fraud Can Be Steepreports that romance scams are on the rise. Older, lonely, or heartbroken adults are common targets. In Florida in 2020, $40.1 million was stolen from victims who were victims of a crime ring or bad actor posing as a potential suitor.

Some people lose their whole life savings in a matter of months.

Many other financial crimes are carried out by fraudsters, such as phony investment scams, phone and gift card scams, lottery scams, Medicare and Social Security scams and more.

There is no limit on how creative these criminals can be. Family, friends, and caregivers are also not immune from skimming funds for their own use.

The average amount lost per victim is $34,000. When a person is acting as a fiduciary, the number soars to $83,000. The older the victim, the greater the average amount of stolen assets.

As soon as exploitation is suspected or confirmed, action should be taken. When exploitation is suspected, take these steps to help law enforcement investigate and prosecute the criminals:

  1. Talk to the victim, who may not be aware of the exploitation
  2. Contact the authorities and follow their instructions
  3. Notify financial advisers who may be able to put a freeze on accounts
  4. Document the victim’s interactions with the suspect
  5. Talk to all witnesses to interactions between the suspect and victim; and
  6. Talk to an elder law attorney who can discuss your legal options regarding guardianship or conservatorship if the victim lacks capacity to handle their own affairs.

Reference: AARP (Feb. 22, 2022) “The Legal Consequences of Elder Fraud Can Be Steep”

How Do I Hire an Elder Law Attorney?

Elder law attorneys are lawyers who assist the elderly and their family members, and caregivers with legal questions and planning related to aging.

These attorneys frequently are called upon to assist with tax planning, disability planning, probate and the administration of an estate, nursing home placement, as well as a host of other legal issues, says Forbes’ recent article entitled “Hiring An Elder Law Attorney.”

In addition, there are some elder law attorneys who have the designation of Certified Elder Law Attorney (CELA), a certification issued by the National Elder Law Foundation. A Certified Elder Law Attorney must meet licensing and other requirements, including specific experience in elder law matters and continuing education in elder law. However, note that an elder law attorney does not need to have the CELA certification to be an experienced elder law attorney.

There are many elder law attorneys who specialize in Medicaid planning to help protect a senior’s financial assets, if they suffer from dementia or another debilitating illness that may require long-term care. Elder law attorneys also prepare estate documents, such as a durable power of attorney for health and medical needs and a living will. As you age, the legal issues that you, your spouse, and/or your family caregivers must address can also change.

If you are a senior, then you should have durable powers of attorney for financial and health needs, in the event that you or your spouse becomes incapacitated. You might also need an elder law attorney to help you transfer assets if you or your spouse move into a nursing home to avoid spending your life savings on long-term care.

Healthy people over 65 are in the best spot to do more than having estate planning documents prepared. That’s because they have the opportunity to develop a holistic strategy beyond the legal documents. This can give assurances that the family members and professionals they’ve assembled understand the principle of supported decision-making and how it will be implemented.

For example, an elder law attorney may focus on finding the least restrictive residential environment and making other health care and financial choices. An elder law attorney can also protect seniors with diminished capacity, who are being victimized by personal and financial exploitation.

An initial consultation with an elder law attorney will help determine the types of legal services they can offer, and the fees associated with these services.

Reference: Forbes (Oct. 4, 2021) “Hiring an Elder Law Attorney”

What are Signs of Identity Theft?

Identity thieves are searching for ways to use your personal information, charge purchases in your name, steal your medical account information and get your tax refunds.

Money Talks News’ recent article entitled “Beware These 8 Signs of Identity Theft” reports that consumers filed more than 1.4 million identity theft reports with the Federal Trade Commission in 2020—twice as many as in 2019. You should watch out by knowing these warning signs identified by the FTC.

  1. You see changes in your credit report. When you check your credit, look through the report for anything out of place, such as charges and accounts that you don’t recognize. This can be proof that an identity thief has accessed your credit accounts or opened new accounts in your name. Check your credit report regularly. It’s easy to do online. You’re entitled by federal law to one free report every 12 months from each of the three major credit-reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). In the pandemic, you can get a free report every week.
  2. A merchant declines your check. If you balance your checkbook and pay bills on time each month, you may be surprised if a merchant refuses a personal check. However, it may signal that a thief has been using your bank account or opened an associated account in your name.
  3. You see unexplained charges. Look through your bank and credit card account statements for unusual charges for withdrawals you don’t recognize and can’t explain. If you’re a victim of identity theft, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. You can also contact the three major credit bureaus to request a credit freeze. This prevents new accounts from being opened in your name. You can now place and lift a credit freeze for free.
  4. You get no mail. A thief may be intercepting your mail, if your bills or other correspondence don’t come as expected.
  5. You receive calls from debt collectors. If you’re diligent in paying your bills, and you get a call from a debt collector, it could be about debts that were incurred by someone else in your name.
  6. Your health insurer rejects a claim. Your insurer’s records could show that you’ve reached the limit of your benefits. This can occur if thieves target your medical account and take advantage of all the benefits, so you can’t make a legitimate claim. Don’t click on unfamiliar or potentially suspicious links.
  7. You get an unexplained medical bill. You may get a bill from a doctor for services you didn’t use. If so, be suspicious because a thief may have accessed your health insurance information and used it to receive medical care, sticking you with the bill.
  8. You see suspicious changes in your medical records. Another tip-off that you’ve become a victim of fraud is if your medical records include a health condition that you don’t have. This could damage your ability to get the care that you need.

Act quickly if identity theft occurs and report it.

Reference: Money Talks News (Aug. 10, 2021) “Beware These 8 Signs of Identity Theft”

What are the Most Popular Estate Planning Scams?

The Wealth Advisor’s recent article entitled “Beware of These Common Estate Planning Scams” advises you to avoid these common estate planning scams.

  1. Cold Calls Offering to Prepare Estate Plans. Scammers call and email purporting to be long lost relatives who’ve had their wallets stolen and are stranded in a foreign country. Seniors fall prey to this and will pay for estate planning documents. Any cold call from someone asking that money be wired to a bank account, in exchange for estate planning documents should be approached with great skepticism.
  2. Paying for Estate Planning Templates. For a one-time fee, some scammers will offer estate planning documents that may be downloaded and modified by an individual. While this may look like a great deal, avoid using these pro forma templates to draft individual estate plans. Such templates are rarely tailored to meet state-specific requirements and often fail to incorporate contingencies that are necessary for a comprehensive and complete estate plan. Instead, work with an experienced estate planning attorney.
  3. Not Requiring an Estate Plan. Although less of a scheme, somepeople think they do not need an estate plan. However, proper estate planning entails deciding who can make health care and financial decisions during life, in the event of incapacity. These documents help to minimize the need for family members to petition the Probate Court in certain situations.
  4. Paying High Legal Fees. Like many things in life, with an estate plan, you may get what you pay for. Paying money upfront to have your intentions memorialized in writing can minimize the expense. Heirs should be on guard if an attorney hired to administer an estate is charging exorbitant fees for what looks to be a well-prepared estate plan. Don’t be afraid to get a second opinion in these situations.
  5. Signing Estate Planning Documents You Don’t Understand. Estate planning documents are designed to prepare for potential incapacity and for death. It is critical that your estate planning documents represent your intentions. However, if you don’t read them or don’t understand what you’ve read, you will have no idea if your goals are accomplished. Make certain that you understand what you’re signing. An experienced estate planning attorney will be able to explain these documents to you clearly and will make sure that you understand each of them before you sign.

You can avoid these common scams, by establishing a relationship with an experienced attorney you trust.

Reference: The Wealth Advisor (June 7, 2021) “Beware of These Common Estate Planning Scams”

Do You Know about the Grandparents Scam?

The Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office explains that the Grandparents Scam involves someone posing as a grandchild or relative of the victim and claiming to be out of town and in need of help, usually involving an arrest.

Local10.com’s recent article entitled “Man, 22, arrested in connection with ‘Grandparents Scam’” notes that, in some cases, the scammer says he or she is a relative’s lawyer or bail bondsman.

County prosecutors explain that the fake relative claims to require cash for bail, hospital bills, or other bogus expenses. The caller provides the victim with directions on how to deposit money into their bank account.

The victims are asked to not tell anyone and are sometimes called again, so the fake relative can ask for additional funds due to “negative developments” in their case, prosecutors said.

“When a 22-year-old like Alvaro Esteban Jaramillo Fajardo revels in helping to allegedly steal the savings of caring grandparents and the elderly, there is something truly wrong. Sadly, some people seem to believe that it’s always easier and more sophisticated to take someone else’s money rather than work for it oneself,” State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle said in a statement.

“The grandparent scammers and those ensuring that the scam works all deserve to hear the sound of a jail door closing behind them.”

Jaramillo Fajardo is facing charges in connection with eight victims, ranging in age from 71 to 88.

In all, these Grandparents Scam victims suffered financial losses of more than $480,000.

According to a news release from the state attorney’s office, Jaramillo Fajardo acted as the facilitator of the cash withdrawals from his associates’ bank accounts, “which effectively laundered the stolen money.”

Prosecutors explained that Fajardo paid the account holders about $2,000 for each incident in which they were involved.

Authorities say the Defendant frequently sought out his associates on social media and also offered a finder’s fee, if they obtained new, usable bank accounts to receive the illicit funds.

Fajardo also boasted that none of the account holders had previously gotten into any trouble, prosecutors said.

Reference: local10.com (April 15, 2021) “Man, 22, arrested in connection with ‘Grandparents Scam’”

Should Vets Be on Look-out for COVID Vaccine Scams?

Officials from Operation Protect Veterans — a joint effort from the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and AARP that works on scams targeting veterans and military members — said they have seen a recent uptick in the number of illicit offers for veterans to “cut in the vaccination line,” if they provide cash to third-party groups.

Military Times’ recent article entitled “Warning: Post Office sees rise in COVID vaccination scams targeting veterans” says that the group also warned of scammers offering “cash payments or other incentives around obtaining a COVID vaccination.”

VA officials will reimburse veterans for the cost of vaccines by the department’s Foreign Medical Program. However, they do not help them find vaccine appointments.

Legislation approved last month by Congress allows all veterans, their spouses and caregivers to get coronavirus vaccines through the Department of Veterans Affairs free of cost. The timing and availability of those shots depends on local supplies.

However, VA officials have stressed the fact that people do not need to pay to receive a dose. Any outside group promising quicker delivery in exchange for cash are taking advantage of confused or frustrated veterans.

“In addition to many of the same scams that fraudsters use to target veterans, we’re now seeing more ‘timely’ scams, like those related to COVID,” said Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale in a statement.

“And as May is Military Appreciation Month, it’s a great time for everyone to become informed and spread the word about scams targeting veterans in order to, in some small way, help repay the tremendous debt we all owe those who have served.”

An AARP survey from 2017 found that vets are twice as likely to be victims of scammers as the general public. The survey found that one in six veterans reported losing money to a bogus offer of benefits or assistance.

The U.S. Postal Service cautions vets not to divulge their personal information over the phone to strangers, especially bank account numbers, credit card numbers or Social Security numbers.

Moreover, they also said any veteran with questions about an unsolicited offer or program should check out the deal with a family member, friend, or local Veterans Affairs office.

Anyone who demands veterans act immediately on such a transaction are like scammers.

More information on scams and protections for vets is available at the Postal Inspection Service web site.

Reference: Military Times (April 30, 2021) “Warning: Post Office sees rise in COVID vaccination scams targeting veterans”

granny cams

Can Senior Care Facilities Use ‘Granny Cams’?

A bill in Georgia that would permit residents in assisted living communities and personal care homes to install electronic monitoring equipment in their rooms has been met with resistance. There are some members of the long-term care industry the oppose HB 849, so-called “granny cam” legislation due to privacy issues. The legislation—which also covers nursing homes—was introduced by state representative Demetrius Douglas (D-Stockbridge). Douglas contends that the technology is needed now more than ever.

Several states have similar laws.

McKnight’s Senior Living’s recent article entitled “Georgia Legislature blocks ‘granny cam’ legislation; industry reps raised concerns” reports that Tony Marshall, president and CEO of the Georgia Health Care Association, says he previously spoke with Douglas and other legislators about the granny cam bill and his concerns. He said concerns were also shared by the state ombudsman and various advocacy groups.

“Surveillance cameras observe — they do not protect — and the use of such cameras in a healthcare setting significantly increases the risk of violating HIPAA [Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act], federal and state privacy regulations,” Marshall told McKnight’s Senior Living. “We also have concerns related to several other technical aspects of the bill.”

Marshall also noted that the Georgia Health Care Association supports “transparency and measures to ensure that the highest quality of care is being provided to elderly Georgians,” while also “valuing a home-like setting and honoring each resident’s dignity and right to privacy.”

He said his association believes that true quality improvement happens by collaborative efforts with legislators and other players to bolster the ability of nursing centers to recruit and retain a skilled, competent workforce. This also will “further programs designed to educate healthcare professionals, consumers and communities-at-large on abuse prevention and identification,” Marshall said.

The bill allows electronic monitoring equipment to be put in a resident’s rooms in assisted living communities, personal care homes, skilled nursing facilities and intermediate care homes. The resident would be required to provide written consent from any roommate and notify the facility before installing a device. A sign must also to be posted to let visitors and staff members know about the granny cam. The facility also wouldn’t be permitted to access any video or audio recording from the resident’s device.

Douglas said the pandemic has shown the need for cameras and noted that other states have adopted similar measures, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. The state legislator remarked that he introduced the legislation after being contacted during the lockdown by family members, who said they weren’t told about outbreaks or immediately told when an elderly family member died.

There are six states—Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, and Utah—that have laws requiring assisted living communities to accommodate resident requests to install electronic monitoring equipment in their rooms.

New Jersey also has a “Safe Care Cam” program that loans such equipment to healthcare consumers, including families of assisted living and nursing home residents.

Reference: McKnight’s Senior Living (Sep. 15, 2020) “Georgia Legislature blocks ‘granny cam’ legislation; industry reps raised concerns”

henry ford estate

Why was Widow of Henry Ford II in a Fight over the Estate?

Henry Ford II’s heirs say that his attorney, Frank Chopin, tried to control their access to Ford’s 80-year-old widow, Kathleen DuRoss Ford.

Her daughters, Kimberly DuRoss and Deborah DuRoss Guibord, alleged that Chopin abused her, by “[forcing] pills down her throat.”

The Wealth Advisor article entitled “Ford Heirs Lose Battle to Oust Mother’s Allegedly Abusive Caregiver” explains that Chopin has power of attorney over the widow’s affair and denies the allegations.

A Palm Beach, Florida judge denied their request to have Chopin removed as her caregiver. It was a decision that left her daughters, grandchildren and even her 82-year-old sister, Sharon, distraught.

Tara DuRoss, a 23-year-old granddaughter of Ford’s, said that Chopin had restricted her time with her relatives. They were forced to scheduled conference calls and meetings away from her home. However, the calls then stopped.

“I used to call her every day. We just want to be able … to see her.”

Chopin said that it is untrue that Tara spoke to Kathleen daily. He called her an “idiot child,” and said the family was “estranged,” unless “they wanted something.”

Kathleen DuRoss Ford passed away on May 9.

Henry Ford II was also known as “HF2” or “Hank the Deuce.” He was the eldest son of Edsel Ford and eldest grandson of Henry Ford of the leading family in the American automotive industry.

After his death from pneumonia in 1987, DuRoss Ford was involved in a public fight over the fate of the estate, which was then thought to be at least $350 million. The legal battle eventually settled, and she received an annual allowance that was worth millions of dollars.

Reference: Wealth Advisor (March 31, 2020). “Ford Heirs Lose Battle to Oust Mother’s Allegedly Abusive Caregiver”