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Taking Action when Loved Ones are In Too Deep

Sadly, there are many cases where older adults do not (or cannot) realize they are ensconced in a scam. If you believe your family member is in that situation, there are a few avenues you can explore.

First, contact the person’s financial planner or estate attorney (if they have one). Victims may be more likely to listen to advice from their planner, attorney, or financial advisor than from a family member, especially if they have worked together for many years. These professionals may also help in reporting the crime and helping with tax issues that result from the fraud.

As a last effort to combat continued victimization, a conservatorship over the estate may be necessary. A conservatorship over the estate reassigns control over a victim’s finances. A conservator is appointed by a judge for the benefit of someone who has become incapacitated.  A judge is the only authority who can make the determination that an older or other vulnerable adult ,or “conservatee,” is no longer competent to handle his/her financial affairs. (Note that some states use the term “adult guardianship” in reference to conservatorships.)

Courts have broad discretion when determining who should be appointed as a conservator.  Although they generally choose a spouse, adult child, or other close family member to serve in this important capacity, the choice still belongs to the court. A court-appointed conservator of the estate manages the client’s finances, locates and takes control of the assets, collects income due, pays bills, invests the client’s money, and protects the assets. An independent professional, such as an attorney or accountant, may instead be appointed, depending on the circumstances.

Advantages of conservatorship:

Disadvantages of conservatorship:

Note: A declaration of capacity may not be necessary in situations when circumstances show that the proposed conservatee cannot manage his or her finances or is a victim of undue influence.

We would like to acknowledge the Los Angeles Scam Working Group and Bet Tzedek, whose research informed this article.

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