Where the looters and the poachers stalk prey

“The ‘Greatest Generation’ is the greatest generation to exploit.” This quote by Chayo Reyes, a retired Los Angeles Police Department specialist in elder fraud, from a DVD titled “Saving Our Parents” appropriately depicts increasing, yet often unreported, activities targeting today’s elderly and their families.

The assets of older Americans are being looted via actions in which probate instruments such as powers of attorney, wills, trusts or guardianships are used to gain control of property. These actions evolve into an involuntary redistribution of assets (IRA) as ultimate financial resource distribution becomes contrary to the asset owner’s intentions.

Family members are sometimes IRA perpetrators, but non-family individuals can come into an older person’s life with equally damaging results. It can be a premeditated effort or an “opportunity knocks” act. And don’t ever think the elderly don’t exploit each other! A senior woman with no money, an inflated sense of entitlement and a life expectancy of another 10 years or more can easily become a financial predator. The exploited elderly person may not understand (or live to see) the actual IRA action. Instead, honest and responsible people in the target’s life may be left to deal with the aftermath and even become secondary targets — especially if they are heirs/beneficiaries for whom assets are rightfully designated and/or are obstacles to an IRA practitioner’s ultimate success.

Expensive, prolonged legal entanglements as well as intimidation and harassment are common tools used to pressure heirs/beneficiaries to cede rights of inheritance if outright looting is not easily accomplishable.

Because the pool of those willing to exploit the elderly is endless, it is important to be aware of places and venues where today’s predators search for potential victims. The list might be surprising, but remember: The guise of community respectability, professional credibility, even enhanced morality or religiosity can be important entry points into the life of a predator’s next mark. With that, here is a list of where the looters and the poachers stalk prey:

  • Senior centers
  • Government-sponsored lectures (especially through departments/agencies specializing in eldercare, aging)
  • Civic groups (Kiwanis, Rotary, etc.)
  • Churches, synagogues
  • Retirement communities, homeowners’ associations
  • Support groups (church-sponsored and otherwise)
  • Medical facilities, nursing homes, assisted living facilities
  • Estate planning seminars, sales presentations (beware “free food” ploys)
  • Consultations with “professionals” (lawyers, caregivers, accountants, social workers, etc.)
  • Any places that cater to an older clientele (gyms, dance clubs, libraries, restaurants, etc.)

Anecdotal evidence tells of probate judges attending meetings at senior centers and other community venues ostensibly providing seniors with “prepare now for future needs” information. A forum apparently frequented by individuals with Connecticut probate experience depicts a system in which public officials troll for prospective cases to meet the challenge of operating in a state with numerous probate courts constantly vying for justification of their court’s existence. And though Connecticut residents may experience more visible aggression in these pursuits, similar reports are heard across the country.

Meetings sponsored by anyone — government agencies, churches, civic groups, support groups, whomever — can be beneficial for those looking to poach property of the unsuspecting. An IRA practitioner might be the featured speaker or he/she might be in the audience looking to “befriend” unsuspecting marks. Gatherings put on by seemingly respectable organizations can be viewed as safe havens fostering greater trust and openness to those with whom personal contact is made — a point well known to poachers on the prowl. Support groups can be especially rich in potential targets as the group’s commonality (grief, caregivers, divorce, etc.) may increase their emotionalism and vulnerability — another point not lost on IRA stalkers.

A 2005 Los Angeles Times series titled “Guardians for profit” reported:

Conservators find clients by sponsoring breakfasts at senior centers and networking at legal luncheons. Nursing homes call when residents become too addled to pay the rent, wanting a conservator to write checks for them. Hospitals call when patients have outlasted their insurance, hoping that a conservator will move them somewhere else.

Conservators, also known as guardians, use probate procedures to gain control over an individual’s personal liberty and property. Though the Times articles focus on California, these cases are not uncommon elsewhere.

Stories regarding IRA cases within Florida’s probate system were detailed by the St. Petersburg Times in a 1994 Pulitzer prize-winning series called “Final Indignities.” And though published 21 years ago, the same stories are heard today — from Florida and almost every other state.

IRA predators are a fact of today’s life. Due to the wealth transfer getting ready to occur in the next 15 or so years, IRA actions will likely skyrocket. People think proper estate planning will protect them — wrong! People think they don’t have enough assets to be a target — wrong!!

There is no inoculation from the threat of IRA. There is no avoidance of being a potential target. This information is not offered as a broad-based indictment of all organizations and entities, but awareness should exist on the part of those hosting and attending community events. Knowledge of today’s predatory landscape and recognition of the places haunted by asset looters and property poachers will provide an upper hand. And as forewarned is forearmed, stay alert!

–Lou Ann Anderson

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