Michael Hackard was recently interviewed by Mark Alyn of Late Night Health Radio on his new book Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes. We certainly enjoyed the conversation - a big thank you to Mark and Darrell!
Mark Alyn: Our guest this part of the program is Michael Hackard. He is the author of Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers and Estate Crimes. Also his book from a year ago - this is a brand new book, by the way, just came out in early March, March 1st, I believe - The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. We're going to talk with Michael right now. He's based in Sacramento, California. Would you also be offended that someone at 55 is considered an old, crazy lady?
Mike Hackard: Well, you know, at my age, I'm 69, Mark. So 55, that sounds like a fountain of youth.
Mark Alyn: You're a kid!
Mike Hackard: Yeah, that's right. But I do remember when I was 55, I thought when they were calling 55-year-olds elderly, I thought, "Well, I sure don't feel elderly." And actually, at my age now I don't feel elderly.
Mark Alyn: And I've seen a picture, and you don't look it.
Mike Hackard: Oh, well, thanks.
Mark Alyn: You're welcome. But I remember being a teen and not trusting people over 30. Right?
Mike Hackard: Exactly.
Mark Alyn: So we're really talking about - to me - ageism, but as we grow older - you're 69 - the fact is that people in our generation, the baby boomer generation, are growing up. And we wake up and we think, hmm, I'm Mark. I'm Mike. I'm Darrell. Okay, good start for the day because you don't want to wake up with Alzheimer's or some kind of dementia. It's scarier now.
Mike Hackard: It is scary. It is scary, and it's scary because the numbers are increasing, because depending on how you count, there's 75 million baby boomers. And the risk factor for Alzheimer's goes up by decade, basically. It's a scary thing.
Mark Alyn: At 75 million people, that's almost a third of the population.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, baby boomers, we were the fountain of youth, the youthful generation, looking back on the group that would never get old. Now we're getting old. And a good percentage of us still take care of our parents and take care of children, so we're in an interesting spot.
Mark Alyn: We are. It would seem to me that it's easier to take advantage of - to con somebody who has dementia. Than someone who has all their marbles.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, absolutely. The medical literature talks about someone who has vulnerability. Because someone with dementia - the essence of it is short-term memory loss, but it also has to do with confusion and sometimes paranoia. And it's far easier to manipulate people with those kinds of conditions than those who don't.
Mark Alyn: Have you had any personal experience with family members with Alzheimer's or dementia yourself?
Mike Hackard: Well, yes. I had a personal experience that got me started in some ways into what I do today, and it was almost thirty years ago. But it was my mother's aunt, who was a fairly wealthy lady and had planned to leave her estate for the most part to her nieces and some charities and got taken advantage of by a caregiver. And but for the fact that she had dementia, the caregiver would never have been able to do what she did. So that was a personal experience.
Mark Alyn: I know that caregivers - I mean, there are bonded caregivers, there are agencies. I know that when my was ill, when she needed someone to care for her, it wasn't cheap. It's been 17 years, I think it was 25 bucks an hour times 24 hours, seven days a week.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, it is very expensive.
Mark Alyn: And the opportunity that caregivers can have to take money and to drain bank accounts - I guess the opportunity is really scary.
Mike Hackard: It is really scary, and I guess since we do so much litigation in it, I see it all the time. And it's whether the caregiver is taking $30,000 or $5 million, they're putting the senior or elder at substantial risk. And there's almost - if a caregiver's doing it, there's a coverup in place. And normally you can see a bit of it going on just because the senior is isolated, and the caregiver has a big hand in that isolation.
Darrell Wayne: It happened in the case of B.B. King, as a matter of fact, with his death in Las Vegas. A caregiver was accused of taking money. And then, you know, it gets even more personal in the case of Casey Kasem, which obviously, what happened with him happened in the public venue and Kerri Kasem is a close personal friend. She started an organization called Kasem Cares that you're probably aware of, Mike. It's an overwatch society looking out for this kind of abuse.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, I am aware. I know that she is truly one of the leaders in the country who is doing marvelous work in trying to get this information out.
Mark Alyn: At the same time, if I become Darryl's caretaker or executor, because Darryl and I are brothers...
Darrell Wayne: Just look at the numbers - I think it's going to work the other way.
Mark Alyn: Well, that's true. Darryl is taking care of me...
Darrell Wayne: You're the older dude here!
Mark Alyn: I know! But I'm smaller too. It doesn't make sense. Anyway, if Darryl is my executor, does he have a right to take a salary? Because he's spending so much time taking care of me. There may or may not be any money there, but is there some form of compensation due to someone who is taking care of another person?
Mike Hackard: Yeah, normally yes, but by way of contract. Because the problem is if there isn't a contract - I had this particular case. An elderly woman in her 90s and her caregiver, she was supposed to be paid $2,000 a month. But her caregiver was putting a thousand-dollar check in front of her every day and telling her she hadn't yet been paid for the month. By the time the caregiver was caught, she'd taken $100,000. Yeah, it's better to have a contract because the caregivers can just take such advantage of an elder who's got dementia. An the elder doesn't know much they're giving that caregiver.
Mark Alyn: The book that you've come out with is really a guide so that if somebody has a parent, or a spouse, or even a family member or friend, you give some guidelines to mitigate the chance of financial ruin and being taken advantage of.
Mike Hackard: Well, thank you, that's certainly the effort that I made. Because it's just so tragic for people to watch an elder get taken advantage of. And they feel like a bystander who can't prevent it. And oftentimes it's very difficult to prevent, but at least we can identify some things they can do and some signs of the abuse.
Mark Alyn: And at the same time we should point out, and in the case of my mother's caregivers, they were terrific. I wrote the checks, but we needed somebody. I'm certainly not qualified to take care of another person. When they shower, or wash their hair. These are the kinds of things you want the caregiver to do. And you don't want that isolation, because I think that's a clear sign that there may be a problem.
Mike Hackard: Absolutely. And caregivers sometimes feel like angels. They're just terrific, and they provide comfort to the elder and comfort to the family. It's like in anything. In fact, for the most part on undue influence cases, 57% are family members, and 15% are caregivers. But's it's just when things go awry, they can go really awry.
Mark Alyn: Oh yeah, absolutely. And we hear these stories, and going back to 40s radio (which I do not remember 40s radio, no matter what Darryl says). You've got a woman or a man who's elderly, considered elderly, has a lot of money and wants to leave it to his stepdaughter or stepson. The stepson or stepdaughter wants to off that person early so they get all that money fast.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, a classic 40s movie.
Mark Alyn: Film noire.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, there you've got it. That's right.
Mark Alyn: But it's happening today where they're draining the money. They want it, they see it. They see that they're not going to get is. The will is to give it to Pooky the dog.
Mike Hackard: Yeah, you're right. There are various ways to drain it. And just a recent one comes to mind, but I've seen it so many times. For those people that have cash in a state, usually by the time we get involved in estate litigation, that is just something we cannot prove. And oftentimes it's anecdotal. Maybe a daughter or son says, "Well yeah, dad always kept $200,000 in cash," not exaggerated. Or $500,000 in cash, whatever the figure is.
Mark Alyn: In a mattress?
Mike Hackard: No, actually, the ones I've seen are in safes. But the safe is always drained by the time the legitimate heirs seem to come in. I caution people about that.
Mark Alyn: Let's talk about a couple of things. So I have a feeling that a caregiver who's isolating my mom. I have a feeling the caregiver has isolated my mom. Even a stepbrother, step - even a brother-brother, and I want to hire you or another attorney to go after them. How does that work? How do you make a decision, a determination, that this is the case that has merit or not?
Mike Hackard: Mark, the first thing I would say, kind of go through a checklist for you and see if you could gather a good deal of information yourself. Now, a lot of times you can't because there's isolation. The caregiver won't let you even in the house or apartment. But you look for unpaid bills. Sometimes it's pretty extreme - utilities are shut off. Look for checks and unfamiliar signatures. You can also look around. Oftentimes items are gone from the house. You just look for some of those markers. If you can't get to the markers, oftentimes people will hire an investigator. And that's just something we've gotten involved in recently. I've spoken before a group of California licensed investigators, suggesting certain things. If you can get enough information from there, the next steps, living relatives, are difficult. Because we have standing issues. In other words, who can bring a lawsuit? And the elder is presumed to have capacity. Let's say an aggrieved son has a difficult time bringing a lawsuit because of that presumption of capacity. There are kind of some ways we can get around that, but it's a tough thing.
Mark Alyn: If somebody has $100,000 or $100 million, does it matter?
Mike Hackard: Well, it does matter just in terms of the firepower you can bring to the party or to the litigation. And with a hundred thousand at stake, it's tough. I mean, just the amount of money it takes to hire a lawyer, or oftentimes we do things on contingency fees. But it's tough to have a contingency case when the elder is alive and is being abused while living.
Mark Alyn: It's better if they're dead?
Mike Hackard: Well, in terms of the cases and what the law says with regard to standing in terms of a legal case, it's stronger if they've passed away. And of course, I realize as I say this, that it just sounds terrible. It sounds terrible. No, I know, it sounds like we made it up, but we didn't really make it up. I mean, it's the issue of standing. And my heart goes out to - I do everything I can in my own power to make those challenges when someone is living, to make them effective. I can just say, though, from experience - long experience - it's a difficult task.
Mark Alyn: Wow. And you said contingency. Here in California that's like 30%?
Mike Hackard: Well, anywhere from - usually on a contingency, on behalf of, say, a conservator, or someone who is impaired, it's one third, but oftentimes estate and trust litigation is up to 40%.
Mark Alyn: Gotcha. It's still worth it because even if it's a few million dollars, it's a lot of money.
Mike Hackard: It is a lot of money, and I always sit down with our clients, and I want to listen to their stories and see what they're telling me. But when it comes to the financial aspects on a contingency case, I always say, "You know, we're both starting with zero." Absolute zero.
Mark Alyn: Right. And are these civil or criminal or both?
Mike Hackard: Well, we don't get to do criminal because we're only civil lawyers. They're a mix of civil law where in say, the civil courts, you can get a jury trial, and in the probate courts where you don't get a jury trial. We like jury trials if we can get to them.
Mark Alyn: Of course. Hey Michael, thank you very much. I look forward to talking to you again about this as the laws change, because they're always changing. If you have an interesting case, let us know. I'd love to talk to you again, and come down to LA, and we'll get together. Michael Hackard, the author of Alzheimer's, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes.