A family of 3 siblings has been worried about their widowed father, who lives alone in the country. He is very comfortable, but not extremely wealthy. 6 years ago he got sucked into an internet scam. He believes he has been sending money to refugees in Africa and he is going to get a lot back soon as a reward. He is completely addicted to the contact with the scammers. They send him 50 of emails a day. He is mesmerized. This seems to be his social life.
His daughters are worried and have of course, tried to talk him out of it. By their calculations he has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to the scammers. When I heard about this a year ago, I offered them several alternatives.
One was to have a family meeting of the siblings to develop a unified strategy and to do so immediately. We could be there to facilitate it.
Another was to do an intervention to attempt to get him to commit to a change of authority over the partnership that controls his wealth. That is a service we can provide at AgingParents.com. We were ready to go.
Another was to use the legal means they already have to begin to get funds away from their father to protect him from eventually depleting everything. Some funds were in a partnership and their father had agreed to give up control to the partnership but had failed to follow through.
There is one sibling with leadership, who made the first call. However she did not follow up for a year. When she called more recently, things had not improved, Dad had lost even more money and he was developing more signs that he needed help with his life beyond money. Alternatives were again offered, this time with more immediacy. A crime is underway and they are still not doing what needs to be done to stop the abuse.
This time, they are “thinking about it”. One sister reportedly wants to “give Dad a chance” to stop giving away his money on his own. I would call that a very ineffective plan.
We do know that financial elder abuse costs our elders $2.9B per year, every year. Scenarios like the one here are part of it. Every family needs to be aware and every family needs a better plan than this family had. If they want to watch Dad’s money flow into the hands of criminals, they can keep doing as little as they are doing. If they want to bring it to a halt, it will take a very assertive plan of action and the will to carry it out.
Our courts are interested in protecting elders from such abuse and are willing to grant family members the power they need to stop abuse if all other efforts fail. Guardianship (conservatorship in CA) is a legal way to get control over finances so an elder won’t keep being abused. An aging person does not have to be incompetent to be a victim of elder abuse. Judges can grant guardianship (conservatorship) over just the money and not the person if that is what the lawyer and family request. A court looking at how an internet scam drained several hundred thousand dollars from an elder would likely meet the standard the court would need to grant the guardianship to protect the financial safety of the father in this case.
What stopped this family from taking steps to impose control or, failing that, to seek conservatorship? They didn’t want to offend their father. I was appalled. If they don’t think he would be offended by becoming destitute I guess that excuse would do. In my book they were lacking the guts to do what was needed.
Every person with an aging loved one needs to be aware of the risks. Isolated, lonely elders are at high risk. The scammers are extremely good at hooking their victims, almost hypnotizing them. If you have aging parents, remember, it can happen to anyone.
Get advice at AgingParents.com when you have a loved one, especially with any memory problems. The memory problems go hand in hand with loss of financial judgment.
Until next time,