Law Tips: Preventing Financial Exploitation of Your Elderly and Disabled Clients

Welcome back. Thanks to the generous contributions of Jim Voelz, Voelz Law Firm, Columbus, Indiana, Law Tips is looking into the “hidden epidemic” of financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled. This week Jim’s counsel delves into advising clients on gifting of assets and limiting their financial power of attorney. He will also recommend protective steps clients can take to avoid being financially exploited.      

To Gift Or Not To Gift:

Elder law attorneys are frequently asked to give advice about whether the client’s home and other assets should be gifted. Many of our clients and their families know about the high costs of care in the home, an assisted living facility, and a nursing home. They have heard about other folks who have lost their homes, farms, and other assets to pay for the costs of their care, and they do not want that to happen to them. So how are we going to help these clients, and what are we going to advise them to do about their concerns?

I want to focus on the situation where you are asked to give your client advice about gifting when your client is elderly with no immediate health issues that would require care at home, in an assisted living facility, or in a nursing home at any time in the foreseeable future. The issue is whether the client should gift their home and/or other substantial assets now to protect them.

One  option is to advise the client to gift the home and/or other assets now in the hope of getting past the five year lookback from the date of a future Medicaid application that requires the reporting of uncompensated transfers that give rise to a period of ineligibility to receive Medicaid benefits (“transfer penalty”). An argument for this could be that gifts that are made more than five years prior to the filing of a Medicaid application are protected and have no effect on Medicaid eligibility.

What advice should you give?

Your advice should protect the best interests of your client. I suggest that you review in detail all of the potential risks and disadvantages of gifting with your client.

(Law Tips note: The Voelz Law Firm outlines issues for clients in a firm letter describing the potential problems that can arise as a result of gifting assets, such as estate planning problems, loss of control of property and tax consequences. The letter is shared during Jim’s CLE presentation.)

We keep copies of this letter in our conference rooms, because we use these letters often. We give a copy to our client and a copy to each of the family members or other persons who are attending the conference with the client, and we keep a dated copy in our client’s file as documentation of our advice.

After this review, in almost all of our cases, our client decides not to make any gifts. However, if a client still wants to make a gift of their home or other assets, then we usually ask our client to think about what we discussed and schedule a second appointment to have further discussions. If, at that second appointment, the client still wants to gift, then we meet with the client alone, if other family members or others attend this conference, to make sure this is really what our client wants to do without being influenced by other persons who are attending the conference.

We always advise our clients to have a Financial Power of Attorney in place, and we have discussions with our clients about whether they should include certain provisions in their Financial Power of Attorney that could lead toward protecting some of their property if it would make sense to qualify them for Medicaid or other governmental benefits, such as the VA Aid and Attendance Pension, in the future. (See Indiana Code 35-46-1-12.)

If an attorney prepares a Financial Power of Attorney that gives the attorney-in-fact unlimited and unrestricted authority to gift or loan in unlimited amounts, then these provisions can subject your client to the risk of being financially exploited by the attorney-in-fact.

I would suggest the following to reduce or eliminate this risk:

1. Prepare power of attorney provisions that require other persons to agree before gifting or loaning can be done and/or that require the prior approval of an attorney in conjunction with a plan to qualify the client for Medicaid or other governmental benefits.

2. Meet with the client and with the attorney-in-fact to explain the power of attorney and its provisions. This will serve to educate the attorney-in-fact and will also provide an opportunity for you to introduce yourself to the attorney-in-fact, as your client’s attorney, so that you will be consulted in the future.

3. Provide the attorney-in-fact with instructions on how to properly use the power of attorney.

Advice For Your Clients On How To Avoid Being Financially Exploited

An elder law attorney should also be able to advise a client about how to avoid being financially exploited. Here are some suggestions that could be made to a client:

– You should establish your safety net of trustworthy and reliable persons. Sign a Power of Attorney that appoints a person who is 100%trustworthy and who will always act in your best interests. Do this before you have a serious health issue or impairment. If you do not have such a person, then appoint a bank or credit union who has a trust department who will agree to be appointed to handle your financial affairs, if necessary.

– You should establish relationships with experienced professionals who have a good reputation such as an accountant, financial advisor, and attorney and consult with your appropriate advisors before you engage in any questionable transaction.

– Sign-up for the “do not call” list to help stop telephone solicitations at www.in.gov/attorneygeneral (Register For Do Not Call). This does not eliminate all telemarketing calls so do not talk to unknown persons who are trying to sell or give something to you.

– Do not keep a large balance of money in your checking account, arrange for direct deposit of your income, and set-up automatic bill pay for your utility bills and other regular expenses.

– Do not hire caregivers or others who would work in your home without a background check.

– Do not leave your mail in an unsecured mailbox and shred documents with personal identifying information.

– Do not give any stranger or new acquaintance your birth date, Social Security number, or any information regarding your accounts or financial information.

– If you lack mental capacity or become impaired, then allow someone who is 100% trustworthy and reliable and who will always act in your best interests to take over management of your financial affairs.

– Report any questionable request or solicitation to your trusted relative or person.

– Report any suspected or attempted financial exploitation to law enforcement and/or to the Adult Protective Services officer in your area.

 

Thanks again to Jim Voelz for sharing his expertise in the prevention of financial exploitation of elderly and disabled clients.  If you missed his first Law Tips column, you will find it below.  For a comprehensive update in elder law from an outstanding panel, check out the 2014 Elder Law Institute on October 9-10, 2014.

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About our Law Tips faculty participant:
James K. Voelz, Voelz Law, LLC, Columbus, Indiana. Mr. Voelz ‘s law practice primarily involves estate and disability planning, estate and trust settlement, elder law, and Medicaid qualification services. Jim is a member of Hoosier Hills Estate Planning Council, National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and its Indiana Chapter, and the Indiana State Bar Association’s Elder Law and Probate, Trust and Real Property Sections. Mr. Voelz serves on the Committee on Character and Fitness of the Indiana Supreme Court.  And he is also the author of “Senior Moments” newsletter.

About our Law Tips blogger:
Nancy Hurley has long-standing connections with Indiana lawyers. She was formerly a member of the ISBA and IBF staffs for over 30 years. Nancy’s latest lifestyle venture is with ICLEF. We are utilizing her exceptional writing and interviewing skills while exploring how her Indiana-lawyer background fits with ICLEF’s needs. When she isn’t ferreting out new topics for Law Tips, her work can be found in our Speaker Spotlight blogs, postings on the ICLEF Facebook and Twitter pages, and other places her legal experience lends itself.

Thank you for reading Law Tips. You may subscribe to this weekly blog through the RSS link at the top of this page.  Also, you are encouraged to comment below or email Nancy. She welcomes your input as she continues to sift through the treasure trove of knowledge of our CLE faculty to share with you.

ICLEF • Indiana Continuing Legal Education Forum, Indianapolis, IN

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