As our parents and family members age, they may become unable to manage their financial affairs without assistance. Unfortunately, there are many people in the world who will target the elderly to exploit them financially. Elder financial abuse is a growing concern, and as we can see from this news story about French L’Oreal heiress Lilliane Bettencourt, it can affect more than just the bank account—especially if Alzheimer’s or dementia is a factor.
Lilliane Bettencourt, 88 years old, is heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune and is worth a reported 23.5 billion dollars. A medical report obtained by the court revealed that Ms. Bettencourt suffers from moderately severe Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, ruling her mentally unfit to manage her affairs. The court gave control of her affairs to her daughter, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, and two grandsons.
Francoise first brought this to the courts three years ago, after her mother allegedly gave gifts totaling approximately $1.23 billion to a society photographer. That resulted in an agreement that Bettencourt’s attorney, Pascal Wilhem, would manage her finances. Her daughter returned to court again after it was discovered that Bettencourt had invested almost $240 million with a client of Wilhem’s.
According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, elder financial abuse spans a broad spectrum; from taking money or property, promising lifelong care in exchange for money or property, to fraud and telemarketing schemes. The perpetrators can be family members who have substance abuse problems or stand to inherit and feel justified in taking what they believe will rightly be theirs at a later time.
There are also predatory individuals outside of the family who seek out vulnerable seniors with the intent of exploiting them. They may profess love, seek employment to gain access, or use positions of trust or respect to coerce vulnerable elders.
Some things to watch for as signs of elder financial exploitation, as listed on the NCEA website, include:
1. Sudden changes in bank accounts or the inclusion of additional names on an elder’s bank accounts or signature cards.
2. Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents.
3. Unexplained transfer of assets, disappearance of funds or valuable possessions.
4. The sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relative claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possessions.
If you have a loved one that you fear is nearing incompetence or is at risk for elder financial exploitation, please call our office today. We can help form a solid asset protection plan to protect you and your family members from exploitation.