Here at AgingParents.com, we hear about every age-related issue you can think of. Families raise questions about cognitive decline more frequently. We are in the business of counseling for elderly families. When I first heard of a minority group using their common ground with ethnically related seniors as a particularly slimy way to steal from them, I was horrified. But now that it has come up more than once, I must raise the red flag for all to see.
These criminal networks, as I call them, work like this: many of their seniors are foreign born and seniors can have difficulty with English no matter how long they have lived in the US These seniors are always more comfortable with “ theirs”. The elders trust those who speak their first language. They trust those who share cultural, religious and other habits in common. This puts them very well in the crosshairs of unscrupulous members of their own ethnic group. It can be of any ethnicity. Getting old is getting old, and predators find a way to steal any way they can.
I have heard that the pastors of their churches are the ringleaders. Tax preparers in the congregation say they will file returns for their limited English-speaking members. They do it and then they keep the refunds. They make threats. They intimidate. They persuade the elder to switch the power or trust in his favor, eliminating legitimate heirs. I have no idea how widespread this is, but in my own little world, it has caught my eye multiple times.
Here is just one real life example:
Mya, 91, is a widow, lives alone and has a valuable home. She is cognitively impaired and is quite hard of hearing. She has only one son, who lives out of state. Her English is limited. A family friend, who is not from her ethnic group, agreed to put her house up for sale and help her deal with the transition to a place where she can be properly cared for. She signed a listing contract with him. Subsequently, “Ono”, a member of her minority group who also knew her through her church, began visiting her regularly and developed a “friendship” with Mya. Ono knows the son and knows that he is very busy and does not visit Mya often. He planned what to do to take the real estate listing from Mya’s other friend. Not only that, she knew that Mya’s son was appointed proxy and is Mya’s sole heir. She set to work to change that.
The law in many states calls what Ono did a classic case of undue influence. She used her trusting relationship, Mya’s vulnerability, and her frequent visits to maneuver Mya into making changes. First, he took Mya to the bank and tried to get her to withdraw $10,000. The bank, suspecting undue influence, denied the transaction. Well! But Ono did not stop there. She found a bilingual attorney who speaks his language, and Ono likely posed as a relative. He persuaded Mya to ask the lawyer to create a new trust, worded in both her language and English, to change Mya’s caretaker from Mya’s son to Ono. The lawyer drew up the trust. But when Ono brought Mya back to the bank, presumably to try to withdraw money to pay off the unsuspecting lawyer, the bank again refused the transaction. The lawyer refused to provide the trust and destroyed it. But things could easily have gone the other way at the bank.
Ono is unlikely to stop his efforts to trick Mya into changing her estate plan to Ono’s advantage and eliminate her son. Mya’s son has legal options. First, he can report the ugly plan to Ono’s real estate broker, who is responsible for what the agent, Ono, does. He can only hope that the broker is not involved in the evil plan. He can then collect all the evidence he has of what Ono is doing and hire a lawyer to ask the court for a “restraining order” against Ono. That is likely to be granted, from my point of view as a lawyer. Finally, Mya’s trust has a provision that says if she is evaluated by two doctors for her inability to manage her financial affairs, she is removed as a trustee of her trust and her son takes control. her. That evaluation was scheduled, but only after Ono’s frustrated efforts to get money from Mya.
Could this have been prevented?
We say yes, the scheme could have been stopped early on, without things reaching the dangerous level they did. Mya’s son could have done the following, acting immediately after her father’s death, leaving Mya alone and vulnerable to predators.
- When an elderly parent is widowed, step in immediately and address the issue of whether that widowed person is truly capable of managing finances. If a surviving parent has memory loss or other signs of decline, look at the trust and see what it takes to remove them if they are reluctant to voluntarily resign. To take action! Get medical evaluation right away.
- If a vulnerable senior is alone, has no caregivers, and has no family nearby, find a way to move them to a safer living situation. In Mya’s case, her son did nothing for too long. The house should have been sold quickly and Mya would have moved on.
- Disabled seniors in their 90s shouldn’t be living alone at all, particularly with Mya’s hearing loss, limited English, memory loss and general frailty. We blame your son for allowing this situation to exist. when he could have been arrested for having taken reasonable steps to protect Mya.
- If you are part of an ethnic minority, know that this could have a serious drawback. Evil people can use their minority common ground with elders to take advantage, manipulate, steal and abuse, using undue influence.
For anyone with an elderly, cognitively impaired parent who must take over management of a trust and other finances after being widowed, do not allow that parent to continue as sole trustee or in charge of bank accounts. That’s a lose it all trap. A responsible family member can do the right thing to prevent criminals from succeeding.
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