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Alzheimers & Undue Influence

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Undue influence is the most insidious method of elder abuse - whether through isolation, emotional manipulation or other means, bad actors will abuse positions of trust and authority for their own benefit. In a recent case out of Arizona, a financial advisor has been accused of wielding undue influence against a victim who was incapable of resisting. Scottsdale broker John Waszolek is the subject of a FINRA complaint alleging he took advantage of his longtime client, an elderly female suffering from Alzheimers, in order to maneuver himself into her estate as a major beneficiary.

Waszolek, who was working with UBS Wealth Management during the period of alleged misconduct in 2008-2009, learned that his client had been diagnosed with Alzheimers. Yet instead of acting to protect her interests, FINRA says, Waszolek decided to illegally and unethically advance his own. In addition to gaining status as his client's estate agent and power of attorney, he "shopped around" for a lawyer who would make him a beneficiary of her trust. Waszolek then stood to inherit $1.8 million, a sum that was originally intended to be split evenly between four charities. Just a day after the trust was amended, he resigned from UBS and moved his practice to Morgan Stanley Smith Barney while informing neither of the two companies his newly-secured beneficiary status.

When Waszolek's client died in 2010, he didn't get the big payout he was expecting. The bank responsible for the deceased woman's trust fund would sanction the transfer to Waszolek's account without approval from his employer, Morgan Stanley. The latter denied that request and ultimately forced Waszolek from his position at the company. But Waszolek wasn't ready to throw in the towel - he then sued the bank and Morgan Stanley in Arizona's Maricopa Superior Court and managed to scrape out a $50,000 settlement. Now, however, he has to answer to FINRA action for his alleged wrongdoing.

The case of Waszolek and what FINRA says was the exploitation of his elderly client serves as a reminder that undue influence is more common than we might think. Our seniors are already vulnerable to elder financial abuse, and degenerative conditions like Alzheimers and dementia unfortunately provide a perfect opportunity for predators to manipulate and force their way into a victim's estate. Setting up a system of verification between family members, financial professionals, and attorneys, thereby ensuring fair play, is a good way to stop undue influence. Let's prevent further elder abuse and hold bad actors accountable.

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