Elder financial abuse threatens America's economy as well as our families and local communities, causing anywhere from $3 billion to $36 billion in damage every year. According to a new survey conducted by the Investor Protection Trust, 17% of people 65 and older across the United States say that they've been defrauded or exploited. And while some senior citizens may be in greater danger due to physical incapacity or mental ailments (dementia, Alzheimer's, etc.), new evidence suggests that significant wealth and a seemingly secure estate are no guarantee of protection. Indeed, an elder's inherent vulnerability may make them an even more tempting target for financial predators.
A recent story from The Washington Post showcases that elder abuse doesn't fit into any one income bracket. The estate of multimillionaire Home Shopping Network co-founder Roy M. Speer was able to obtain a $34 million recovery in court from Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and two of the trading company's brokers. Speer's widow Lynnda says that before her late husband died in 2012, Morgan Stanley Smith Barney and its employees had acted in bad faith and violated their fiduciary responsibilities by mismanaging his estate and foundation holdings. A court arbitration panel came down on Lynnda's side, concluding that instead of ethically stewarding the funds entrusted to them, the investment advisors engaged in "unauthorized trading, churning, breach of fiduciary duty/constructive fraud, negligence, negligent supervision. . . and unjust enrichment."
Cases of elder financial abuse like Speer's are not at all uncommon, though the dollar figures are usually lower for the wider population. Nonetheless, even powerful multibillionaires such as Sumner Redstone, the founder and majority shareholder of CBS and Viacom, are potentially vulnerable to exploitation and elder financial abuse. Ongoing litigation for control of the 92-year-old media mogul's estate has focused on his diminished physical and mental capacity - former girlfriend Manuela Herzer contends Redstone is subject to undue influence by company executives and his daughter Shari. Herzer, previously in charge of Redstone's advanced healthcare directive until she was removed from his will in October of 2015, stands to regain a $70 million fortune she had been allocated, but her questions on Redstone's deteriorating condition - and whether it was manipulated by third parties to their own advantage - deserve a fair hearing.
The rain falls on the rich and the not-so-rich alike, and the same goes for elder financial abuse. Dr. Robert Roush, a professor at Baylor College of Medicine, notes that "financial fraud can happen to a janitor or the founder of a Fortune 500 company." Regardless, it's our duty to protect our elderly loved ones from exploitation and hold wrongdoers accountable. By staying alert, speaking out and teaming up with doctors, attorneys and medical professionals, we can safeguard our families and our future.