Protecting seniors against Elder Abuse is one of my most important duties as a Financial Concierge. Just this week I got to the bottom of another story of financial abuse, performed in a very subtle manner. However, there were warning signs all along the way, so I thought I would share some of them with you.
The Warning Signs
The case involved a married couple who had hired me to take care of their bills and establish a spending plan, among other things. Like many people their age, they had an in-home caregiver visit them daily. She was very friendly and it looked like she took good care of my clients, but soon a pattern started to emerge.
I visit these clients once a week to go over bills and cash flow with them. I noticed that the caregiver had a habit of walking in the room where we were meeting – and I began to suspect her of eavesdropping from another room.
I didn’t say anything because all I had was a gut feeling at this point.
As is the case with most retired people, my clients live on a fixed budget. In order to better manage it, we divide it into a weekly allowance and I kept a close eye on the checkbook. One day I noticed some withdrawals from the checking account that were not included in the weekly spending plan.
The caregiver volunteered to take my clients’ grandson to the airport and my client gave her cash for it. I told her that I was familiar with the route to the airport and that it did not cost as much as the amount she was claiming.
Christmas time came and my clients wanted to give the caregiver a generous bonus, which is one week’s salary at the end of the year. I said her contract does not allow her to accept gifts so I called the agency to discuss it with them. They approved the bonus, but something had changed in the dynamics between my client and the caregiver.
The caregiver developed an attitude about the money she was making. She told me she goes into the agency every three months to demand a raise, no matter what – and that my clients have been approving every one.
Through the ordinary course of my duties, I discovered that the caregiver was now a beneficiary of the husband’s will…to the tune of $50,000!
It’s not uncommon for people to leave their housekeeper or caretaker something in their wills, but that is usually for a worker who has been with them for many years. This caregiver had been working for – or working – my clients for less than a year.
It all came to a head while the caregiver was on vacation in Florida. I happened to run into my clients’ lawyer and I asked him about this unusual $50,000 addition to their will. He acknowledged adding the caregiver, as did the husband.
When confronted by the agency, the caregiver denied any knowledge of being put in the will. All parties knew she was lying. While she was still in Florida my clients terminated their relationship with her, and she never came back to their house.
Elder abuse is one of the cruelest crimes but there are warning signs you can look out for. In this case, the warning signs shared one thing in common: A new best friend.
After a lifetime of work and taxes, retirees should be able to enjoy their golden years without worrying that they are being scammed. I am lucky to be in a profession where my skills can be used to directly help seniors – or anyone else who needs me.
Judith Heft, Principal, Judith Heft & Associates is a personal financial concierge with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at email@example.com or by phone 203-978-1858.