How to Make Sure Aging Parents Are Never Taken Advantage Of

By Alan D. Feller, Esq.

There is a moment, as a parent, when you become instantly aware that you are no longer looking down to make eye contact with your child. Your child’s power and strength are growing while yours is slowly ebbing (hopefully very slowly).

Growing up is a time of expanding horizons and finetuning your understanding of the world. Aging is not always an opposite force. In many ways, aging offers a different but still compelling view of the world.

But sharpness, technological proficiency and skepticism may fade over time.  Predators, both strangers and unscrupulous family members, may try to take advantage of those who are unable to process activities like they used to.

The first step is identifying what needs protection. Your parents’ assets may include a home, checking and savings accounts, life insurance, retirement accounts, cars and personal property.

Different generations sharing their financial history is not always a smooth process, but a parent who implicitly trusts an adult child should make the effort. Powers of attorney allow a chosen agent to have access to financial accounts, make payments and handle a variety of financial matters. This is a valuable first step to ensure basic oversight. 

An adult child must be aware of the people that their parents interact with on a regular basis. We are not talking about hassling their neighbor who stops by with sourdough bread (although we will keep an eye on the loaf). Strangers offering a pricey service that your parents do not need should raise concerns. Having a checkbook is one form of independence that should not be affected without a serious discussion between parents and adult children.

The question is, do you wait for that first scam payment before you step in or not? Account holds initiated by banks overseeing the holdings of vulnerable adults previously victimized is a legislative action item in New York. Institutional controls may make sense in the absence of responsible family members, but the fear of overreach is always present.

With phone and online scams specifically targeting seniors, adult children who are caregivers and also agents under a power of attorney should try to set up alerts with the bank notifying them of all transactions that exceed a certain amount.

When the concern rests within one’s own family other issues arise. Sometimes a parent may choose the least suitable family member to become an agent under a power of attorney. Having multiple co-agents acting together under a power of attorney may make sense to avert problems down the line.

In many cases, the family member with questionable attitudes may be the sole agent and fail to provide information to the rest of the children. Banking records are supposed to be confidential, but real property deeds are public records. An unscrupulous adult child may try to transfer the parent’s home to themselves. Checking the county clerk land records may not prevent the transfer, but if discovered quickly it may allow for an expedient legal response and avoid a surprise years later.

The best way to protect aging parents is to be involved, speak regularly and understand the legal protections available to your family.

Alan D. Feller, Esq. is managing partner of Sloan & Feller Attorneys at Law, located at 625 Route 6 in Mahopac. He can be reached at alandfeller@sloanandfeller.com.

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