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”

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”

Should I Be Paying with Personal Checks?

More than 14.5 billion checks, totaling $25.8 trillion, were written in 2018, according to the Federal Reserve. Although that number has decreased by about 7% every year since 2015, checks are still being written by Americans, including seniors.

Money Talk News’ recent article entitled “Is Writing a Check Still Safe?” says that in an era of identity theft and bank fraud, how safe is writing a check? Remember, when you pay by check, you are handing a piece of paper with your bank account number and other personal details like your name and address, to another person. This is often a complete stranger! Checks can be forged, and identity thieves could steal your personal and banking details from a paper check. Let’s look at what you need to know about writing a check in 2021 — and how to minimize your risk.

Banks apply security measures, like watermarks and gradient backgrounds, to prevent checks from being reproduced by fraudsters. This also lets financial institutions and businesses validate paper checks easily. In 2018, measures such as these prevented 90% of attempted fraud, according to the American Bankers Association. Nonetheless, check fraud—which includes forgery, theft, and counterfeiting—accounted for $1.3 billion that year.

Know that the risk of trouble increases, if you don’t specify a recipient on the check. If you write a check to “cash,” anybody who gets a hold of it could cash it. If you need cash, it’s safer to use your debit card at an ATM or visit your bank and write a check out to yourself.

Seniors are more likely to still write paper checks, and because the elderly are more likely to be the targets of financial fraud than the general population, check-writing can compound their risk. Here are some steps you can take to safeguard your information and reduce your risk of fraud:

  1. Complete the “payee” line in full, along with the current date on every check you write in ink.
  2. Restrict the information pre-printed on your check to just your name and address, and don’t include your birth date, phone number, or driver’s license number. If a merchant requires these details, you can always write them in.
  3. Keep your checks in a safe place, not in your purse or briefcase, which can be lost or stolen; and
  4. Watch your bank account activity regularly. By keeping an eye on your finances, you also reduce your risk of fraud.

Even if you prefer paying electronically, you probably shouldn’t dismiss checks altogether. There are small businesses that still don’t accept debit or credit cards. If they do, they might charge a fee for it.

Checks also offer a paper trail, so they’re usually preferred for a down payment on a home or an IRS tax bill. Therefore, if there’s an issue, you’ll have a copy of the deposited check and a record of when payment was made, received and applied.

Of course, no payment method is 100% fraud-proof. However, with proper handling, checks are an extremely safe method of banking, as they have been for many years.

Reference: Money Talk News (Feb. 17, 2021) “Is Writing a Check Still Safe?”

crimes against elderly

Will the Sunshine State Crack Down on Crimes against the Elderly?

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill recently approving the creation of elder abuse fatality review teams.

These teams are authorized by Senate Bill 400, which permits, but doesn’t require the creation of elder death review teams in each of Florida’s 20 judicial circuits. The teams would review cases in their judicial circuit where abuse or neglect has been found to be linked to or the cause of an individual’s death.

The Naples Daily News’ recent article entitled “Deaths of Florida’s elderly who were abused or neglected to get increased scrutiny under new law” reports that for many years, the state has authorized teams to examine child deaths and domestic-violence deaths where abuse is involved. However, the state hasn’t had a comparable review when an elderly adult dies, even under suspicious circumstances.

State Senator Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, has sponsored the bill for the last four years and remarked that it’s “incumbent upon us as a state” to review cases of elder abuse and to look for gaps in service and possible policy changes to better protect the elderly.

“It can help to reduce elder abuse, if somebody knows that it’s going to be up for review if something happens to that senior,” said Gibson, the Senate minority leader. “The other thing is to prevent what happened in the cases they’re reviewing, to keep that from happening to another senior.”

Elder advocates believe that the new elder death review teams could help decrease the number of cases of nursing home neglect and mistreatment, like those identified in a recent USA TODAY Network – Florida. The investigation looked at 54 nursing home deaths from 2013 through 2017 where state inspectors cited neglect and mistreatment as factors.

The investigation found that Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration seldom investigated the deaths.

The new law states that these elder abuse fatality review teams can be established by state attorneys and would be part of the Department of Elder Affairs. They would be composed of volunteers and open to people from a variety of disciplines, such as law enforcement officers, elder law attorneys, prosecutors, judges, nurses and other elder care advocates.

The teams are restricted to looking at files that have been closed by the State Attorney’s Office, whether or not it resulted in criminal prosecution. Remarkably, state attorneys didn’t prosecute any of the 54 nursing home deaths reviewed in the network’s investigation.

Reference: Naples Daily News (June 11, 2020) “Deaths of Florida’s elderly who were abused or neglected to get increased scrutiny under new law”

stimulus checks

Must Seniors at Care Facilities Sign over Stimulus Checks?

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has announced that some states across the country have received reports of nursing homes and assisted living facilities that have falsely said that COVID-19 stimulus checks are “resources,” under the rules of federal benefit programs that must be used to pay for services.

It’s “not just a horror story making the rounds.” The FTC says that these are actual reports that officials at the Iowa Attorney General’s Office have been getting – and handling. The FTC noted that other states are experiencing the same types of complaints.

The FTC says that it’s not true and urges people to check with family members who get Medicaid and live in these facilities.

They should file a complaint with the state attorney general, if they or a loved one have experienced this problem, says CBS Local New York’s recent article entitled “FTC: Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities Cannot Take Stimulus Money From Medicaid Patients.”

“We’ve been hearing that some facilities are trying to take the stimulus payments intended for their residents on Medicaid,” the FTC says. “Then they’re requiring those people to sign over those funds to the facility. Why? Well, they’re claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility gets to keep the stimulus payment.”

Some facilities are claiming that, because the person is on Medicaid, the facility is entitled to keep the stimulus payment.

However, that is false. According to the CARES Act, these economic impact payments are a tax credit, and the law says that tax credits don’t count as “resources” for federal benefits programs, like Medicaid.

If you think there’s a problem, you can also file a consumer complaint online or by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

Reference: CBS Local New York (May 19, 2020) “FTC: Nursing Homes, Assisted Living Facilities Cannot Take Stimulus Money From Medicaid Patients”