Friday, June 1, 2012

Financial Crimes Against the Elderly


By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

There must have been a secret mark on the front of my father-in-law’s house only visible to scam artists.   He lived alone and one day bought a freezer full of fish.  A month later, the same sales person sold him another freezer load of fish along with a second freezer to hold it.   Then there was the man who knocked on the front door and offered to paint his peeling front steps.  That person used his tools and paint, was paid and stole all of the tools from Dad’s garage. 

My neighbor’s wife died and he decided to continue to hire the caregiver who helped during the last months of his wife’s illness.  He did not need the help, but he felt sorry for her because she told him she needed the work to pay her bills, so he hired her for two days a week.  Later she was sad one day.  He asked why and she said she was behind in her rent, so he hired her an additional day, that he did not need.

My client, Betty, was in her 70s and lived alone.  Her grandson, George, had a drug habit and came over frequently, giving her a sad story of how he was short of money.  When her son, Bruce, noticed  $5,000 disappeared from her bank account in one month, he asked Betty where it went.  She made up a story, because she was embarrassed to admit she gave it to George.   The only way to stop this was for Bruce to be appointed by the court as Betty’s Guardian and Conservator.

Undue influence of elder persons is becoming an increasingly severe problem.  Through fraud, duress, threat, intimidation, emotional manipulation, isolation and other techniques that foster helplessness and dependency, unscrupulous perpetrators cheat vulnerable older persons out of their life savings.  This trend is increasing because those older than age 50 now control at least 70% of the nation’s household net worth.  Wealthy, and even middle class, older persons have become frequent targets for criminals, including family members and care givers, who want to divest them of their assets.

Legally, the concept of undue influence, particularly when it occurs to the competent elderly, is a difficult issue.  It should be suspected when significant others or caretakers develop trusting relationships that isolate the victim, foster a siege mentality, induce dependence, promote a sense of helplessness, hopelessness, or powerlessness, and manipulate the elderly person’s fears or instill new fears and vulnerabilities. 

We really are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers and need to watch out for our seniors.  Early intervention and reporting can prevent devastating emotional and financial losses for older persons who have worked their entire lives to become financially independent.



Exploitation of the Elderly:  Undue Influence as a Form of Elder Abuse, by Ryan C. W. Hall, MD, Richard C. W. Hall, MC and Marcia J. Chapman.  Clinical Geriatrics, Vol. 13(2), 28-36; 2005


Friday, May 25, 2012

Veteran Receiving Non-service Connected Pension and Aid and Attendance Benefits – VA Demand for Overpayment

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Are you a veteran receiving benefits for non-service connected pension and Aid and Attendance?  Has the VA made a demand to be paid back for overpayment to you?

What can you do?

The VA can forgive any debt if there was no indication of fraud, misrepresentation, or bad faith on the part of the claimant and recovery of the debt would be against equity and good conscience.  [38 USC § 3502 and 38 CFR § 1.963(a)]. 

You can request that the debt be forgiven or ask that there be a “waiver of the debt”.  The request must be in writing and received by the VA within 180 days of the VA’s decision.  If you fail to request that the debt be forgiven within the deadline, the VA can garnish Social Security benefits, stop your VA benefits and garnish any tax return you may be receiving.

What is the bottom line?  Pay attention to your mail.  If you have been receiving VA benefits and you get a letter stating you have been overpaid, do something.  Take action!  If you don’t act in a timely fashion, you will be on the hook for the overpayment.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Do You Know Your Taxes Are Going Up?


By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

In April, I attended a national meeting of the American Academy of Trust, Estate and Elder Law Attorneys, a premier educational seminar for attorneys like me who do estate planning.  From that experience, I want to share some important information with you.

Taxes are scheduled to increase dramatically in 2013: 


                                                                             2012                  2013

Estate and Gift Tax – Top Tax Rate                     35%                   55%

Estate and Gift Tax Exemption                             $5 million           $1 million

Federal Income Taxes – top rates

         Capital Gains                                                15%                   20%

         Qualified Dividends                                       15%                   39.6%

         Interest & Compensation Income                  35%                   39.6%


In the current political climate, Congress and the President are not likely to reach a compromise on these issues, and in fact the President wants to make “the rich” pay their “fair share” in taxes.

What does this mean for you?  2012 is a year of opportunity while taxes are lower.  It would be wise to schedule an appointment to review your estate plan before September 1, and see if there are steps you can take to improve your family’s position.  If you wait to the last minute, it may not be possible to put a plan in place before the law changes.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Where Do You Keep Your Important Papers?

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho


         Who knows where you keep your important papers?  In an emergency situation, valuable time could be wasted tracking down important legal papers.  Make it a point to tell your children, successor trustee or personal representative where they can find your original documents.  If you store those documents in a safe deposit box, or a safe at home, make certain they have the ability to get into the box or safe. 

         We frequently receive calls from our clients’ family members who want to know where they can find these documents, and they need them “now” because there is a family crisis.   There are legal limitations that tie our hands so often we cannot provide our copies to the family. 

         You do not have to tell anyone about the contents of the papers, just let them know how they can access them in an emergency.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Over Age 18?

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

When was the last time you were asked if you are over 18?[1]

Why do I ask?  Every adult, even young adults, should sign a financial and health power of attorney.  The law states that a person becomes an adult once they reach age 18.  If you have children or grandchildren who are going off to school, it is important that they sign a financial power of attorney, a health power of attorney and a living will so someone has the legal authority to help out in an emergency.  If there is an accident, or a serious health issue, and no power of attorney is signed indicating who is to make decisions, it will be necessary for a parent, or someone else, to file a petition at court.  The petition will ask for a court order giving them the right to act on behalf of the incapacitated person.  This court proceeding, called a Conservatorship or Guardianship, is expensive and time consuming.

An easy, common sense solution for everyone age 18 and older is for each person to just sign the powers of attorney forms.   

We have them available for free on our website.

[1] For me it was in the Chicago airport and I ordered a glass of wine.  They make everyone show identification.  How silly when you have grey hair and wrinkles!



Friday, March 30, 2012

Why Is the City Digging Up Telephone Poles?

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

I walk my dogs every day.  We cruise the neighborhood.  Of course making it safe, but also noticing any changes or new things.  For the last month I have noticed piles of dirt around the wooden telephone poles.  It seemed odd to me.  Yesterday, I saw a young man digging around a pole.  I asked him why and he told me the city decided it is much cheaper to dig the dirt from around the wooden poles, treat the wood with something to stop any rot or bug infestation, wrap it in a special cloth and then refill the dirt.  This saves them loads of money because it is cheaper to maintain the poles, than it is to replace them.  Of course, that makes sense.  We have limited resources, and it is cheaper to take care of what we have, rather than let it fall apart and only notice when it fails.

How does this relate to you?  If you have gone to the trouble and effort, and paid for, an estate plan to help protect you and those you care about if you are ill or die, why not make certain it still works.  When the telephone poles were installed they were the best, but as time goes by things change.  The City still wants them to be the best and can help that happen with maintenance.  You, too, need to maintain your plan so that it works when you need it   How can you do this?  Set up a review appointment with your estate planning attorney to review your existing plan to determine if it covers your current circumstances and what you want to happen when you become ill or die.  If not, it is easy to make changes now before there is a problem.  The City is saving money and headaches.  So can you.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Whitney Houston's Will Is Now Public - What Was She Thinking?

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho


Whitney Houston’s Last Will and Testament is available on the internet and everyone can see the terms of her estate plan.  Her estate goes to her daughter and is managed until she is 30, with some assets going to her earlier.   Do you want your affairs made public?  There were similar news reports about the Last Will and Testament for Jackie Kennedy Onassis and Elvis Presley.   Every word of their Wills became public.

How does this happen?  When someone dies with a “Last Will and Testament,” their Estate must be probated in the local court.  This means the Will is filed with the court along with a petition requesting that the terms of the Will be followed and that someone nominated in the Will be appointed by the court to wind up the affairs of the deceased person.  All of these documents filed with the court become a public record and are available for anyone to view.  They just need to go to the courthouse and pay for copies.  

Maybe this is not a problem for some people.  But many of us would not be happy if the details of our personal lives were available for strangers to review.  It is none of their business.

If this is a concern of yours, you may want to consult with your lawyer about how to create an estate plan that keeps your affairs private and still accomplishes your planning goals.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Hope is not a plan. Is it OK to have two house fires?

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho 

I talked to a wife this week who has been a caregiver for her demented husband for years.  Recently he has taken to getting up in the night and using firewood stored by the fireplace to start fires on the hearth and in the firebox!  Fortunately, his wife noticed both times and put the fires out.  She is grateful for these miracles but sees no need to change how they live.  

Her desire is to continue to care for and keep him at home with no help.   This is a dangerous plan for both of them.

Fortunately, their children and doctor have taken notice and are working to make changes that will result in a safer environment for each of them with plenty of help.

Hope is not a plan.  That approach is living in a fantasyland unrelated to real world events associated with ageing.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Inheritance Trust

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Marie died and $400,000, which was all of her estate, went to her son, Chris.  Chris was married to Jane and they had three children.  Chris died two years later giving all of his assets, including those he inherited from his mother, to his wife.  After a few years, Jane married Tim, a widower with one child.  Jane and Tim did not have a prenuptial agreement, and they just decided to put all the assets each of them owned in joint names.  Jane died a year after marrying and everything she owned went to Tim.  When Tim died everything went to his child.  Nothing went to Chris and Jane’s children. 

Do you want your son’s widow to give your son’s inheritance to her new husband rather than your grandchildren?  If not, you may want an “Inheritance Trust.”

Some other names for this type of trust are “dynasty,” “heritage,” or “legacy” trusts.

This trust provides powerful protection for the individuals who inherit from you.  How does an inheritance trust work?  Upon your death, the monies a person inherits from you will be deposited directly into this trust rather than being given to them out right.   The funds that are placed in this trust will be protected from divorces, creditors, lawsuits, and bankruptcy.

Using an inheritance trust, we will rewrite the story about Chris.   When Marie died, $400,000 went to Chris. This time Marie has created an irrevocable inheritance trust naming Chris as the Trustee and the sole beneficiary during his lifetime.  When Chris dies, whatever remains in this Trust will go to his three children.  Marie dies, and Chris puts the $400,000 in this inheritance trust.  Chris decides how the funds will be invested, and he has the right to withdraw the money under certain circumstances. When Chris dies, those funds will go to his children and stay in Marie’s family. This trust provides extraordinary protection for Chris because the money will be protected should certain life tragedies occur, such as a serious illness, financial reversal or divorce.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

A Fresh Start - Seven Ways to Get Organized

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho

Life gets away from us with endless distractions every day.  Here are seven easy steps you can take to be certain some of the most important parts of your life stay organized.

  1. Keep your important papers in one place and tell someone where they are located.  These papers may include some or all of the following:  birth certificates, marriage certificates, death certificates, divorce decree, military discharge papers, life insurance, car titles, deeds, your Last Will and Testament, a Revocable or Irrevocable Trust, financial power of attorney, health power of attorney, living will, Physician’s Order for Scope of Treatment (POST), funeral plans, health insurance, long-term care insurance, a list of your bank accounts, retirement accounts, and other investments, along with a list of your charge card numbers.
  1. Sign a financial power of attorney, which allows the people you select to handle modest financial transactions for you if you are not able. 
  1. In addition, sign a health power of attorney appointing someone to make health decisions on your behalf if you cannot communicate effectively.
  1. Sign a “living will” to elect the type of care you want to receive when you are on your deathbed.  If you fail to have a “living will,” under Idaho law the legal and medical systems require at a minimum that you receive nutrition and hydration with tubes (nose or stomach tubes).  The other two choices are to use all the fancy machines to keep you going as long as possible, or skip the tubes and fancy machines, and just keep you comfortable and “let me go.”
  1. Sign a Last Will and Testament or a revocable Trust so that your wishes will be followed when you die as to who will be in charge, and who will receive your “stuff” [the ring and gun] as well as who will receive your estate.
  1. If you have a safe deposit box, or a safe at home, make certain someone else has the ability to access them if your are ill, out of town or die. 
  1. If you have pets, make arrangements for their care if you are unable to care for them due to illness or death.

Lastly, mark your calendar for a year from now to review this list and up date your affairs.  That way you will stay organized and prepared which creates security for your future.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Wishing Does Not Make It So!

By Susan M. Graham, Certified Elder Law Attorney, Senior Edge Legal, Boise, Idaho


My 69-year-old Cousin in Seattle called on Sunday to update me with his bad news.  His mother died on Thursday, his daughter was engaged to an unemployed plumber who has 2 young children, and my Cousin was diagnosed with diabetes.  I asked if he had paperwork in effect to help address some of these issues and, like most people, he said “No.”   He did tell me he is “thinking about” doing something. 

Are you over 65 with no plan for your future? 

Do you want to be in charge of your life for the rest of your life? 

Wishing does not make it so.  Put a plan in place to make that happen.

What “parts” does your plan need to take the mystery out of tomorrow and replace it with confidence and security?   Everyone needs to start with the basics.  First, decide and sign papers that set out who will handle your health decisions and finances if you are unable to help yourself.   Most of us do not plan to die tomorrow, but it is a guarantee it will happen some day and you get to elect who gets all your things, from a ring to a bank account.  At a minimum, you need a Last Will and Testament to fully accomplish your plan of who inherits from you when you are gone.

Get started on your plan now.  How?

Contact your Certified Elder Law Attorney to discuss where you are, what you want to accomplish with the rest of your life, and discover the best strategy to get where you want to go.

Stop wishing, and do something NOW!  Take the steps to help yourself have a more secure future.

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