As the child of senior citizens, you do not want your parents to become victims of financial abuse. Unfortunately, any aging and vulnerable person with significant assets can be a potential target for this form of elder abuse, especially if they are living with dementia and have lost the ability to handle their financial affairs.
Unscrupulous members of your family or outsides can use manipulation, coercion, threats or other tactics to get access to your parent’s money or make themselves an heir in your parent’s will or beneficiary of their estate. Fortunately, you can take steps to help protect your parents, including becoming their guardian if necessary. Here are some practical steps you can take in the meantime:
- Set up auto-pay for your parents’ bills and direct deposit for any income they receive, such as payments from a trust and Social Security. This helps your parents keep their finances organized and avoid lost checks and forgotten payments.
- Use credit card cards instead of cash whenever possible. This establishes a paper trail so that you or your parents can dispute any suspicious charges, which may not be possible if cash was used.
- If your parents still have the mental capacity to do so, have them set up you, one of your siblings or someone else you trust as financial power of attorney as part of their estate planning. A person with power of attorney has the authority to act on behalf of another person. A power of attorney also can receive copies of bank statements and other financial documents to keep an eye out for unusual activity.
If there is no power of attorney and your parent have become incapacitated, it is likely necessary that you will have to pursue a guardianship over them. Because the prospective ward lacks capacity, obtaining guardianship is a court proceeding that is generally more complicated than power of attorney. The guidance and representation of an attorney familiar with guardianships in New York can be invaluable.