An estate case out of Palm Beach, FL, is fluttering with red flags of undue influence and elder financial abuse after its details became known last week. Plaintiffs Denise Litsky and Eileen Siner, the daughters of the late millionaire businessman Benjamin Ossman, say that their elderly father was exploited by his live-in-nurse Marika Bucko before his death at the age of 94 in 2014. Litsky and Siner additionally charge that Ossman's lawyer and trustee, Henry Handler, was in on the scheme.
The trouble began, Litsky and Siner claim, in 2008, when Bucko was hired to care for Ossman through local company Boca Nursing Services. Ossman had fallen several times and was exhibiting "irrational behavior," so the two daughters had Boca send Bucko to be his in-home nurse. Within two months of working as Ossman's caregiver, Bucko had persuaded her patient to buy her a new $34,000 BMW and put down $15,000 on dental work. Boca Nursing Services fired Bucko in late 2008 for misconduct, but that didn't stop her from manipulating her wealthy patient into keeping her on independently, the complaint states. If its allegations are accurate, Bucko had arranged a rather "special" working relationship with Ossman:
Bucko, who was 40 years younger than Mr. Ossman, immediately seized upon Mr. Ossman's vulnerabilities, and within the first month as Mr. Ossman's paid caregiver, Bucko began performing sexual acts on Mr. Ossman, showered with him, and laid in his bed...Through her controlling actions, Bucko seized upon Mr. Ossman's vulnerabilities and brainwashed him through fear and intimidation. On numerous occasions, plaintiffs and other family members witnessed Bucko whispering into Mr. Ossman's ear, and he always looked frightened at what she said.
All that, the complaint points out, was just part of Bucko's strategy for gaining control over patient's estate. In 2009 Bucko and Handler set up an LLC to fund the construction of her house (presumably with Ossman's money). Then, a year later, she married Ossman, opening the way for her to change his original estate plan that had been drafted in 2008. Ossman's will and revocable trust, created to provide for his daughters, alleedly have been under the effective control of Bucko ever since, and now Litsky and Siner are demanding an accounting of what remains. The two assert that Bucko managed to exploit $1.1 million in just a year's time, so it's anyone's guess how much might be left.
Should the charges against Bucko prove true, the case would demonstrate both how insidious and shameless elder abuse can be. If you come across suspected undue influence, don't stay silent - inform the authorities loud and clear until someone listens. Not only legal inheritance rights are on the line, but the well-being and dignity of a vulnerable senior are aslo at stake, so let's hold wrongdoers to account.