This week I joined Bob Brooks, host of the radio show Prudent Money out of Forth Worth, TX. Bob is a veteran financial advisor and has dedicated himself to helping people make smart investments, get out of debt, and plan for retirement. He advocates responsible stewardship of money, and this principle shows itself as true as ever in how trustees should respect trust beneficiary rights. Bob and I discussed the challenge of blended families and stepmother disputes over estates in the context of my book The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. A passage from Proverbs sums up what families face:
The San Francisco-based project Seven Ponds, devoted to creating dialogue on death and the process of dying, reviewed my book The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. I'm glad they found it informative and useful. Seven Ponds is especially sensitive to the topic of elder financial exploitation since seniors who are near death will often be vulnerable to predators.
The Los Angeles area real estate market is continuing to grow at a dynamic pace. Last year the median price for homes in Southern California jumped 8.2% to over half a million dollars. The LA housing market, like other vibrant California markets, is proving a great way to build wealth by home appreciation. Baby Boomers and the "Silent Generation" comprise a very significant share of LA homeowners. This immense source of wealth is often targeted, taken or obtained by elder financial abusers. This is a problem that we all should know about.
Home equity in Bay Area houses constitutes the largest share of household wealth. Older people, a large part of owner-occupied units, are more likely to have spouses and dual incomes. And, they simply have had more time to accumulate wealth.
Most of us experience some disquiet when we first meet with a professional whom we've sought out to help solve a problem. It can be hard to put into words the situation that we're in, or even what help we need. We don't know what we don't know. We do know that something is wrong, and we need help in getting it fixed.
Yesterday I was pleased to deliver a presentation at the San Francisco Law Library's Lunchtime Speaker Series. The topic I spoke on is both relevant and important to every family: "Elder Financial Abuse: A Budding Revolution in Estate Litigation."
Blundering trust and estate bandits are still bandits - outlaws secretly or openly defiant of laws and responsibilities that go with the legal obligations required of those who possess or are otherwise responsible for estate or trust assets. While the vast majority of trust and estate professionals take their fiduciary obligations seriously, unfortunately some outliers, some might say "bandits" - those who take "unfair advantage over others usually to procure inordinate payment or profit."  Inordinate payment may range from outright theft to unconscionable overbilling that drain trusts and estate funds.
Last week I learned that Chuck Finney, host of KALW's popular Bay Area radio program Your Legal Rights, had passed away after a short stay in the hospital. I only met Chuck earlier this year, when I sat as a guest on his show to discuss how to fight elder financial abuse and undue influence. But I can tell you my impressions from our brief acquaintance: Chuck was a warm and gracious host, and with his gentle manner came a refreshing approach to the law rooted in public service.
Among California's several high-stakes estate and trust litigation law firms, Hackard Law is one of the leaders. When estate and trust beneficiaries have high stakes in litigated disputes, they have a major interest in its outcome. There are no magic bullets in estate litigation - there are processes and knowledge-based strategies that can improve outcomes - but the risks of litigation always exist.
Last week the influential wealth-management magazine ThinkAdvisor called me for an interview on a complex but important topic: why blended families are prone to estate and trust litigation, and why stepmothers often occupy a central role in these conflicts. This is a subject I've covered at length in my book The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse.
Recently I spoke with reporter Anya Kamenetz of the Chicago Tribune. She had contacted me for my thoughts on the rising challenge of elder financial abuse in America, and how we can spot the warning signs, something I've written about in-depth in my book The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. Anya begins her article with a story from a reader. It describes a textbook potential case of undue influence: an elderly divorced man has a new younger girlfriend with designs on his estate assets originally intended for his children. Unfortunately these stories are increasingly common, which means family members need to be alert for signs of exploitation.