Heather Phillips is a senior at Texas Wesleyan University. We congratulate her on winning the 2017 Hackard Law Academic Scholarship! Heather writes powerfully about her close relationship with her grandparents, and how she protected them from elder financial abuse and undue influence.
I spent the majority of my formative years living with my grandparents in Southern California. I grew up attending a chapel I endearingly referred to as an "old people church." Every Sunday, I sang old hymns and southern gospel songs in the choir, and afterward, I would join my grandparents and all their friends for brunch. When I was seven, my great grandfather passed, leaving my grandparents to care for my great grandmother. Consequently, I spent over six years of my childhood living with my great grandmother. She was a gregarious and kind old woman, seventy-five years my senior. She told me stories about her immigration to the United States, both world wars, and raising children through the great depression. We were incredibly close; I even spent the last few summers of her life volunteering and the Senior Day Center she attended because I wanted to be sure she was safe. My close relationship with my grandparents and my great grandmother fostered a unique appreciation for the elderly, but also made me cognizant of their susceptibility to manipulation.
People over the age of sixty-five are the fastest growing demographic in the nation; they are also the group most vulnerable to abuse and fraud. As a society that over-glorifies youthfulness, perhaps the most perilous form of elderly abuse is seated in the negative attitudes towards older people and the stigmatization of the aging process. Elderly care is a community issue, and only through collective awareness and understanding can we as a society provide safety and security for the people who build this country before us. Prevention starts with education. At an early age, we must teach our children to respect and revere their elders, and as adults we must show compassion and educate ourselves of common threats facing the elders of our communities. As individuals, we must ensure that the older people in our lives do not live in social isolation and have a strong network of people they can trust.
I am still close to my grandparents, and I am doing my best to balance my instinct to protect them with their desire for autonomy. When I decided to go to law school, my grandparents made me the executor of their estate for their three children - the beneficiaries. All three of my grandparent's children, who have a strong distaste for one another, have shown a growing interest in my grandparent's finances and are each attempting to exert their influence over my grandparent's estate. In an effort to combat their vulnerability, I took my grandparents to a lectures series on wealth management and estate planning. We learned a lot, and I am constantly trying to further their understanding so they may have peace of mind in their financial decisions. I always encourage them to have an open dialogue with the family about their will and to never allow one single family member to have complete influence. Together we found a reputable wealth management group that will help them make the right investments so they can afford to enjoy the rest of their lives.
Working with my grandparents for the last few years has undoubtedly influenced my career path. I have always had a passion for law, but now I have a budding passion for finance and want to ensure that all people, especially the elderly, never fall victim to fraud or undue influence.