While many elder laws are in place to protect older adults from abuse, these laws can’t prevent all abuse. Financial abuse of elders is a growing area of concern. One of the best ways to protect yourself and elderly family members is through proper estate planning. Estate planning to prevent elder abuse requires adequately protecting assets as soon as possible. To learn how to protect your family member’s assets adequately, contact the experienced estate planning lawyers in Jacksonville at Beller & Bustamante, P.L.
What Is Estate Planning?
Estate planning is the legal process where you create a plan to legally protect your assets. This process includes documenting who will receive your assets and personal items when you die, who you want to be in charge of your medical decisions if you become incapacitated, and more. Tools like wills and trusts are part of the estate planning process. Having a will is the minimum that every person needs, but it may not be enough to protect your family members from abuse.
What Types of Abuse Are Elders at Risk For?
Most people think elder abuse is just limited to physical and mental abuse. While these forms of abuse are common, they are not the only types of abuse to be concerned about.
Financial abuse is a growing type of elder fraud. Older adults are considered easy targets by scammers looking to take advantage of someone for financial gain. These fraudsters often try to develop a relationship with the elder to gain their trust and access to their money.
The unfortunate reality is that there are many unscrupulous people who have no problem financially exploiting the elderly. Taking the proper steps to protect your loved ones’ assets can go a long way in reducing their risk of becoming a target for these financial scammers.
There are also situations where no one is actively perpetrating fraud against an older person. Financial harm can result from neglect. Neglect can cause an elderly person to becomes incapacitated. If that happens and family members have no idea where the person’s estate planning documents are located, financial harm can result.
How Elders Fall Victim to Financial Abuse
Unfortunately, dishonest people are always looking for easy targets. Elderly people grew up in an era where there were not so many scammers. In general, older people can be far more trusting than younger individuals who have learned to identify scams. Some scams attempt to steal a relatively small amount of money. Others go much farther. By gaining an elderly person’s trust, a high-end scammer can convince an elder to turn over control of their assets. Some scammers take advantage of elders by getting them to add the scammer as a beneficiary in their estate.
In extreme cases, the fraudster may go as far as actually marrying the elderly person to gain regular access to all of their accounts. This type of fraud is sometimes called a “Sweetheart Scam.”
Estate Planning as Protection Against Elder Abuse
Three important estate planning tools can better protect your family members from financial abuse—a trust, power of attorney, and healthcare directives.
Creating a Trust
A trust is a legally binding document that determines who receives your assets once you pass. Trusts are preferable to wills because they better protect an elderly person from financial abuse. Trusts keep people from easily manipulating someone into changing their asset designations. A trust also allows you to have complete say over what happens to your assets if you become incapacitated.
When you choose a revocable trust, it allows for the distribution of assets while you’re still alive and after you pass away. Assets are transferred into the trust now, so the trust becomes the owner. The creator can then choose one or more trustees to manage the trust. There is much less room for a stranger to take advantage of an elder who has their assets managed by a trustee.
Choosing the right trustee is a serious process. You can select a single person as a trustee, a trust company, bank trust department, or multiple trustees. If you plan to name co-trustees, you have to make additional decisions. You must decide if you want to require all trustee signatures on each transaction, or if they have independent authority on behalf of the trust.
Appoint a Power of Attorney
A power of attorney is a document that gives another person the legal authority to act on your behalf. You need to choose someone you can trust as this person will be responsible for your finances and making important decisions. The person you authorize as your power of attorney is expected to always put your needs above their own, which is why it’s crucial to choose wisely.
A power of attorney can be limited or broad in scope, depending on what you prefer. A general power of attorney allows the agent to sign checks, sell property, manage bank accounts, file taxes, and more. A limited power of attorney specifies the exact transactions the agent is authorized to handle, or the exact duration. For example, an agent may have the authority to manage one specific financial account. Or you may give them the power to act on your behalf for only two months while you are traveling internationally.
A power of attorney is most often used when someone becomes incapacitated or disabled. However, some people also use them when they cannot be present to sign a legal document for some type of financial transaction.
Establishing Healthcare Directives
Establishing healthcare directives allows someone to make decisions about your medical care when you cannot relay your wishes directly. For example, if you are in a severe car accident and are temporarily in a coma, you cannot tell the doctors what you want. When you have a healthcare directive, it lets the medical staff know what measures you want to be taken in a given scenario.
You might be wondering how healthcare directives relate to elder abuse. Having a healthcare directive keeps someone from withholding treatment or medication or exposing you to additional harm in hopes of getting their hands on your assets.
Contact Our Estate Planning Lawyer Serving Jacksonville, FL
Elder abuse is a growing problem in the United States. You have to protect yourself and the people you love. Many people mistakenly think estate planning is only for wealthy people or those who are older. But even if you are young, it’s never too early to plan for the future and protect yourself in the event of an accident or illness.
At Beller & Bustamante, P.L., we have over 40 years of combined experience in probate and estate planning matters. We know how Florida law affects your assets and how to best protect your family. To learn more about how we can help with estate planning to prevent elder abuse, contact our office today to schedule a consultation.