Financial scams and the elderly: Red flags to watch for

Financial fraud continues to rise in the U.S., and many of its victims are the elderly. Look for these red flags that could signal a potential financial scam:

If you are asked for any personal information by unsolicited emails, letters or phone calls.

If you receive an email, phone call or letter with a limited-time offer that pressures you to act immediately.

If you receive an offer that comes with a required upfront fee.

If you receive an offer for free merchandise or travel that requires the purchase of something else.

Debt settlement offers promising to clear all your debts.

Solicitors who tell you not to discuss the offer with friends or family.

Product offers that are overly complicated.

Solicitation from someone claiming to be a financial planner specializing in senior or retirement planning who is NOT a certified financial planner, attorney or chartered financial analyst.

Family members – especially those who live a long distance from an elderly loved one – need to be aware of both the symptoms of financial abuse and the remedies available.

Here are some signs to watch for:

Large withdrawals from bank accounts

Cash or other valuables missing from the home

Changes made to property titles or wills

Forging of an elderly person’s signature

Purchasing unnecessary goods or services

Suspicious financial activity – i.e., sudden ATM withdrawals from a senior’s account when you know they have never used an ATM card

Recommendations to help avoid elder financial abuse include:

Get oversight of financial accounts via a power of attorney co-agent designation 

If necessary, have a guardian or conservator appointed

Avoid having a child or other relative as a joint owner of financial accounts

Establish a trust to hold assets with a trustee who has fiduciary responsibility to the elderly relative

Financial abuse of the elderly is an epidemic, but it is something that can be prevented if family members know the necessary steps to provide effective protection. If you have an elderly loved one without an estate plan, consider helping them to get one in place before it’s too late.

The Estate, Trust & Elder Law Firm, P.L., provides attorney services to a range of clients from young families to advanced and crisis long-term care for seniors. Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Examining the True Costs of Caregiving

Examining the True Costs of CaregivingAccording to a Pew Research Center study, almost 40% of American adults are caring for an adult or child with chronic health issues – an increase of 10% in just the past five years. The study found that these adult caregivers can be found across all demographic groups, but are especially prevalent in the 30-64 age group – a group that is usually still in the workforce.

Another study from the AARP found that the average caregiver is a 49-year-old female who works outside the home and spends approximately 20 hours per week caring for her mother. She will do this for nearly five years.

During that time, if she has to leave her paid job, she will lose more than $324,000 in earnings, Social Security and pension benefits over her lifetime, according to a MetLife study which also found that:

  • Nearly 10 million adult children over the age of 50 care for their aging parents.
  • The total estimated aggregate lost wages, pension, and Social Security benefits of these caregivers of parents are nearly $3 trillion.
  • Overall, caregiving sons and daughters provide comparable care in many respects, but daughters are more likely to provide basic care and sons are more likely to provide financial assistance.

Beyond the financial cost of caregiving is the cost to the health of caregivers themselves, with a majority more likely to report poor health than their peers who do not provide caregiving.

Caregivers should consider the following when making decisions on how to handle care for a family member:

Medicare coverage of home health care — Medicare covers home health care only in limited circumstances (such as following discharge from a hospital) and generally not for an extended period of time.

Long-term care insurance coverage – if your family member has long-term care insurance, it will usually cover in-home health care, but policies are costly.

Medicaid coverage of home health care – Medicaid will cover in-home care but has strict eligibility requirements, including a very low income threshold.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only four Treasure Coast attorneys who is Board Certified by the Florida Bar in Elder Law. Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

6 Tips for Seniors on Protecting Yourself From Financial Abuse

6 Tips for Seniors on Protecting Yourself From Financial AbuseThe incidence of seniors who are victims of financial exploitation is rising; here are six tips on how seniors can protect themselves:

  1. Create a Florida estate plan with the help of a professional, trustworthy Florida estate planning attorney while you are still healthy and mentally fit. This is perhaps the most meaningful way to protect your assets, but choose your agents and trustees wisely.
  2. Choose an agent or power of attorney with great care, and do not let yourself be pressured into changing agents against your better judgment. For example, a trusted friend is probably a better choice than an adult child with out-of-control debt or a substance abuse problem.
  3. Open a “convenience account” at your local bank rather than adding an adult child to the account as an owner. A convenience account will allow somebody else to write checks and pay bills, but will not make them an “owner” of the account. That could be especially important for asset protection if the child has debts they cannot pay. If they are an owner on the account, your assets are fair game for debt collectors.
  4. Keep control of your assets. Do not start signing over assets you need to meet expenses simply so your heirs can avoid probate. Florida probate can be an expensive hassle, but setting up a Trust can help avoid probate and protect your assets.
  5. Do not add an adult child to the title of your house. Your house could be in jeopardy if the child ends up in financial trouble. Your child’s creditor can go after your house to settle debts if the child’s name is on the title.
  6. Tell somebody you trust if a relative or friend is financially pressuring you to do something you do not want to do. The trusted person can intervene on your behalf.

At The Estate, Trust and Elder Law Firm, P.L. we help our Treasure Coast clients develop and implement comprehensive estate planning strategies personally tailored to their unique situation, needs, and goals.   Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

6 Money-Saving Tips for Buying Long-Term Care Insurance

6 Money-Saving Tips for Buying Long-Term Care InsuranceMost of us will need long-term care for some period of time, but many people resist purchasing long-term care insurance because of the high cost of the annual premiums, which can run as high as $5,000. Of course, paying for long-term care out of your own pocket is vastly more expensive – hence the need for long-term care insurance.

Here are some ways you can save money on long-term care insurance:

Buy a short-term policy. Unless you have chronic health problems or a family history of health issues, you will likely not need a lifetime policy. A recent American Association of Long-Term Care Insurance study showed that only eight percent of Americans needed coverage for more than three years. You can save thousands in premiums if you buy a short-term policy.

Buy early. Long-term insurance premiums go up as you get older, so the younger you are when you purchase your policy, the lower the premiums will be in general. Premiums can rise, however, even if you have a guaranteed renewable policy.

Shared care policy. If you and your spouse both want long-term care insurance, a shared care policy could provide more coverage for less money. A shared care policy gives you a pool of benefits to split with your spouse, so if you buy a 5-year shared policy, you will have a total of 10 years to share. If your spouse needs four years, you will have six years left.

Longer elimination period. Most policies have a 30-90-day waiting period before coverage kicks in. If you choose a longer elimination period, this can lower your premiums.

Daily benefit reduction. Choosing a lower daily benefit will get you lower premiums.

Protection from inflation. Inflation protection is usually recommended for all long-term care insurance policies, and increases the value of your benefit to keep pace with inflation. However, if you are over the age of 62, you can save by choosing simple interest rather than compound interest increases.

If you’d like to learn more about how we can help you with your long-term care and Medicaid planning, please contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

Financial Pitfalls to Avoid After the Loss of a Spouse

Financial Pitfalls to Avoid After the Loss of a SpouseLosing a spouse is one of life’s most painful events, and can leave a newly widowed person – usually a wife – vulnerable to financial pitfalls. Here are four of the largest financial mistakes to avoid:

Hasty financial decisions. While there are some financial tasks that will need to be attended to in the first few weeks – paying bills, collecting life insurance, etc. – most things can wait a little longer, when you are in a better frame of mind.   Unfortunately, many newly widowed people fall victim to annuity or other investment pitchmen. Before you make any financial decision, you should obtain the counsel of at least three other professional financial advisors.

Home base. Making long-term decisions about your home – like whether or not to pay off the mortgage – should not be made right away. This decision should be a practical one, not an emotional one, so save it for when the emotions are not so raw.

Lending money. Unfortunately, losing a spouse sometimes becomes an event that triggers a lot of money requests from relatives. If you find it hard to say no, enlist the help of an accountant or your estate planning attorney.

Ghost investing. Sometimes a newly widowed person wishes to honor their spouse by continuing to follow their investment wishes. This can be harmful in the long term, since circumstances change and the investment vehicles you previously invested in as a couple may not be the best ones for you alone in the long term.

With the proper guidance, you can protect your finances and spare your loved ones the frustration of having to make costly and difficult decisions.  Contact us for your free initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.