Interview with Chuck Finney on Elder Financial Abuse | KALW 91.7
- January 4, 2018 - Elder Financial Abuse,
This is Your Legal Rights. I’m Chuck Finney. Happy New Year, everyone. Our topic is undue influence and elder abuse. What they are, how to identify them, and what to do if undue influence and financial abuse are suspected. It’s my pleasure to have with me Michael Hackard, founder of Hackard Law, a law firm which focuses on estates and trusts litigation.
Mr. Hackard is a member of the trust and the state section of the State Bar of California. He’s the author of The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. It’s available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon Books, and Mr. Hackard’s law firm is in Mather, Sacramento County, California.
This segment of your legal rights is made possible by the trust and estate section of the State Bar of California, the lawyer referral service of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and the National Board of Trial Advocacy. And Mike, it’s great to have you here.
Well, it’s great to be here.
Thank you for coming from Mather to San Francisco. Oh, it’s quite a trek. Great to have you here. One of the things that I want everyone to know, and I am very impressed just by coincidence of getting an email about your book. It is outstanding, and I think it’s a great book for anyone who is concerned possibly about protecting older people, or if you are an older person yourself, what are the kinds of things that you want to protect yourself about. And I want everyone to know that the publisher of this book is my friend across the table from me. There is no fee whatsoever that has been generated to my program or the station with respect to this book, and I think it’s important that you tell from the outset where the proceeds from this book are going.
Okay, thank you. Any of the money that comes in by way of Amazon, or Barnes & Noble, or however it’s done, we send to the Alzheimer’s Foundation of America. As I’ve said from the beginning, I don’t want to make a nickel on this book. I’d love for the book to continue to sell very well, which it is, but we also give the books away. I’ve done that, you know, in many speeches, and I’m looking forward to doing it more through the coming year.
Well, I’m very impressed with that. And one of the things that Mike has, and he’s a very gracious guy. And by the way, everybody, I want you to know that Mike is someone who I have met through being introduced to his book just a couple of weeks ago. He is not a longtime friend, but someone who I feel is a very valuable person to all of us in terms of education in in the area of certainly undue influence and financial abuse. He has had told me that if you want, maybe you want to write this down, if you want to send him an email, he will send you one of his paperback books. It is in paperback free, no charge whatsoever. So here’s his email address in case you are so interested. Get ready with your pen or pencil a piece of paper: . That’s one word. Dot-com.
And if you want to get a copy of the book, which is really remarkable in my opinion, The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse, he will send it to you. Where is this happening, undue influence? Is it primarily the victims are people who are beginning to have memory loss? Who, maybe they have Alzheimers. Well, what’s going on? And what would we as lay persons be aware of for to protect either ourselves or close friends who are elderly or members of the family?
Well it is quite widespread, so if we step back and think that in America we have about 40 million people that are 65 and older, and there have been various reports and studies that show that one in 10 of seniors has identified that that they feel like they’ve been subject to some kind of elder abuse within the previous year. Now, you know, who knows exactly what that is that some of us are obviously very serious, maybe some of it less serious. But the National Adult Protective Services organization it calls this an epidemic and I think it’s…This is nation-wide.
Nation-wide, oh, and there are other studies that say only 1 in 44 cases is ever reported. There are a lot of things like that, and, of course, anecdotally most of your listeners, if we think about, may have heard of this kind of elder financial abuse. Maybe it was a neighbor, maybe it was a family member, maybe it’s just something that they read about or somehow heard about. But it is an epidemic, and of course as we – and I happen to fit within this group – the baby boomers. Well, there’s some 65 million baby boomers. 10,000 baby boomers every day turn the age of 65. Oh my. So, this is a larger – this is a fairly large group. I was looking at another study and so, yeah, just thinking about it, but, you know, basically around California around 13% of our population out of 40 million is 65 and above. But it’s thought it’s in 20 years from now there are projections that could be as high as 23 percent of our population will be 65 and above.
I’ve seen that statistic, yes. Yeah. Wow. That’s huge. What are the red flags that if we as neighbors of some older person, or perhaps a relative of ours is elderly, what are the red flags that we should be looking for in terms of that might show undue influence leading to financial abuse of an older person?
There are a number of them. One thing that sometimes you will see with someone who is being abused is a sense of embarrassment by the person who’s being abused, and then and they may be reticent to talk about what’s happening to them. But, you know, family members or those close to them might just detect this, that there’s some kind of embarrassment there. The other thing…Embarrassment why? I think it’s embarrassment because as we get older, and, say, we have cognitive decline, and we don’t want to admit it. Yeah, we don’t want to admit it. Okay. It’s somehow demeaning to us to admit it.
And so I’ve seen that. The other thing are when bills are not being paid. So something’s going on there. Secrecy. When an elder wants to keep everything secret. Well, sometimes that’s generated because someone’s taking advantage of them and telling them things. And I’ve seen this, things such as, you know, ‘If you tell anybody about this, I’m going to send you to the old people’s home.’ Or if it’s a dependent, we talked about, you and I, on the side, talked a little about addicted dependent children and that kind of conduct.
You mean drug addiction.
Yeah, a drug addiction with children who are adult children, but they are common abusers, unfortunately, because they have no – generally – maybe don’t have any income of their own. They’re utilizing their parent’s income, and the parent is very vulnerable to them because the parent wants to be able to take care of them. On the other hand, the parents are getting taken advantage of in many cases.
Are there other red flags besides what you just told us?
Yeah, other red flags or isolation. Yeah. If you see a parent or an elderly person being cut off from family members and the community. And those cut offs occur in all kinds of different ways. Some simply may be that whoever is living with the elder, or caretaker, or other person in the house simply won’t let you in. Or if you’re trying to call the elder, you cannot get through on a phone line. Oftentimes elders phones are taken away.
And, of course, the other thing that’s bad that does occur is abduction. People will take their – I’ve had many cases like this.
What do you mean by that?
Well, someone who is taking advantage of the elder moves them out of state.
So, according – Away from their other family members. Away from the other family members. Away from their neighbors, etc. Exactly. And, of course, then the elder is very vulnerable. And the sad thing is when I’ve seen this happen, the elder (him or her) thought they were just going to, say, Johnny’s house in Arizona for a few weeks. Yeah. Little did they know that Johnny had taken over everything, sold their home, and then they’re stuck someplace where they don’t want to be.
One of the things that I think is that I have learned through this, and don’t having practiced law over 50 years myself, I have never had an undue influence or financial abuse at the elder case to deal with. As a Deputy DA for San Mateo County, I had some occasion to have some information provided to me where perhaps someone was being taken advantage of. Like, for example, I remember one situation was – there was this elderly woman in one of the cities in San Mateo County who apparently had been called by someone who identified himself as the attorney for the Canadian lottery, and that she had won half a million dollars. But what she had to get before she could get that check is to send the taxes ahead of time, and the taxes ahead of time for a hundred thousand dollars. She did that.
And fortunately, after she won supposedly the half-a-million, and she sent back a hundred thousand, she then was called by this attorney again the next week who said, ‘Oh Mrs. So-and-So, I was mistaken before. You have won a million dollars. You’re gonna have to do this and send us another hundred thousand. So she was in the process of about to mortgage her home that had no mortgage on it. And fortunately I found out about this and sent one of our investigators with the San Mateo County DA’s office to contact her. Fortunately we stopped that, but in any event, one of the things that I think that I have learned from you and your book is that – and I’m kind of jumping ahead of a moment because – what I have learned in doing this program for 32-33 years is that the average person is very concerned about, ‘Gee, do I really have to hire a lawyer?’ because they’re expensive. Three hundred, four hundred dollars an hour. One of the things that I have learned from reading your book and talking to you is that many of these cases with attorneys, including yourself, will handle these – do it on contingent fee basis. Will you talk about that briefly?
Yeah, and oftentimes we do these on a contingency fee basis. A contingency fee generally means that if we don’t succeed, then we don’t receive any money. It’s much like in personal injury cases. Yes. We do it when we can because most of the time when people have come to us, it’s because they’ve had their money taken away and they don’t have the money. They have nothing. Yeah. They don’t have the money. They just have debts. Yeah. And then to add insult to injury, you know, they end up paying us on a contingency fee, but, of course, I can’t keep my law firm going with zero funds.
No, of course you can’t.
So we do work to – I do what I can on a contingency fee basis for people just so that they can have representation, and you know we conform with all the rules of the State Bar.
And I think it’s worthwhile – let me add one other thing since we’re talking about it. So in elder financial abuse, the law changed in January of 2014. It made the law much more positive and friendly toward elders and their families that have been damaged. And among other things, it allows for the assessment of attorney’s fees against the wrongdoer. That also helps. I would add, the other thing is that there are a lot of lawyers don’t know about this law. And a part of what I’m doing, I’m teaching a course this month to a Bar Association in Sacramento, I think in a couple months in San Francisco, and another one in Southern California later. But lawyers need to know about this. They’re going to be able to help more seniors if they learn the law. And because the legislature has stepped up and said we need to protect seniors and and here’s a good law to help do it.
Well, I think that’s terribly important, and it’s surprising to me that the law changed as of January 1st 2014 when obviously elder financial abuse has been going on well before that.
Oh, it’s been rampant. It’s interesting because if you look at even this last year, the U.S. Senate came up with a law which was signed into effect to help identify throughout the country elder financial abuse and create some reporting requirements on it. In particular, in that case, having to do with guardians and conservators who have abused elders, but there’s a high sensitivity and it’s getting better. There are people that are looking out for elders.
I’m very pleased to hear that. One of my friends of a number of years, when I told her that we were doing this program, she said to me that there was one of her neighbors in the area, I believe, that she had been very concerned about. Perhaps was a victim of undue influence, possible financial abuse, and as a neighbor, she wondered what possible negative potential might there be for a neighbor who sees something that doesn’t look good in trying to either contact the authorities or whatever. What might you tell us on that?
If the report goes to the law enforcement or Adult Protective Services, there really is no exposure with regard to that. The exposure probably has to do with the wrongdoer, you know, and that could be – that’s a realistic fear.
What do you mean by that?
Well, let’s suppose that you’re reporting that your neighbor has been taken advantage of. It looks like their money’s been taken, and the wrongdoer is, let’s say, it’s an adult child who has threatened that both the parent and anyone else who wants to reach out to the parent to help them. I’ve had people – actually this happens with probably once a month – people tell me, ‘You know, I think that that if I do something here, so-and-so is gonna kill me. Now I haven’t seen anybody killed.
Well, I’m glad to hear that.
But it’s the kind of, you know, it’s rather interesting and frightening in its own way that people are so fearful. The other thing is if you, say it’s a neighbor. I just had this happen. You know, if you can reach out to the person who you think has been injured or abused, and you take them to – you could take them maybe to law enforcement, or we have people come to us – that maybe it’s a neighbor or some other interested person who brings them into our office and, you know, then we do what we can to help from there and send them to the right spots.
Now let me let me just do this, everyone. This is our first program of the year, Your Legal Rights. First program of the year. We’re doing this on the evening of Wednesday, January 3rd of 2018. And I hope for all of us, including yourself, that this is a going to be a good year for all of us. But what I want to let you know in about maybe 15 minutes or so, I will invite you to call in with your questions, your comments, your concerns on this area of undue influence and elder abuse. And here’s our toll-free number. We’ll take calls probably in about approximately 15 minutes or so: 866-798-8255. And for those of you who are not aware of this, if you’ve missed some of the program or you want to hear it again, Your Legal Rights is now available as a podcast free of charge. If you want to jot this down, this magic website www.kalw.org/subscribe and take advantage of it if you would like. www.kalw.org/subscribe.
If you tuned in just a little bit late, my guest is Michael Hackard, he’s the founder of Hackard Law. That’s a law firm that focuses on estates and trust litigation in Mather, which is in Sacramento County in California. He’s written a book recently entitled The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. It’s available in paperback and Kindle on Amazon books. if you google Amazon and look for books. And what he’s done, and he’s a very gracious guy, he has said – and we talked about this at the very beginning of the program – that if you would like to jot down his email address and send him an email, he will send you a book free. It’s a paperback. It is actually, let me see, how many pages do we have here? It’s great reading, very fast reading, very valuable reading. Without the notes it goes about a hundred and thirty-three pages. I highly recommend it to you if you are an elder person, or if you have someone who is an older friend, an older neighbor, an older member of your family and you’re concerned about them, I highly suggest you read it. So here’s his email: . That’s one word. Hackard, that’s hackardlaw.com.
Do you find that there is a way that some suggestions you have about if someone is concerned about someone being taken advantage of, how we go about protecting them? What – and I’m not asking you to give us all the information – but what are some of the things that we might do to try to see if we can protect this person?
A really important part of all of that is transparency. So to the extent that the, let’s say it’s a parent, or the elder, has bank accounts, it’s a kind of two-edged sword, but bank accounts, securities accounts, those types of things – pardon me – there ought to be some transparency with it. Someone who is close to them, that is trustworthy, that also has knowledge as to those accounts. Because you can go through, say a monthly statement and see if money’s being taken out of those accounts. And where – what we do see is somebody – the wrongdoer using an ATM card for their own purposes, or credit cards. You know, I over Christmas here, I looked at one case where the wrongdoer went to Hawaii for Christmas.
Well, hey, Hawaii’s fun to go to.
That’s right, must have been very nice.
The problem is the senior didn’t want that. Of course, yeah. This is, though, something that is not only done by some caregivers who are hired to take care of the older person, but also some family members. Yeah, unfortunately a very high incidence of the wrongdoing is related to family members. Would you say more by family members than by persons who are hired to care for them? Yeah, more.
More by family members, and that’s terribly troubling.
Yes, it is.
And divisive to a family. And that’s another thing that to the extent that you’re going to provide transparency to family members, oftentimes it makes sense to provide that transparency to more than one family member.
Of course. So that, you know, there’s kind of a checks and balances that goes with that. I have some recollection, Mike, some years ago in a program that I did on the air, that there was a relatively recent law – and this has been in the last few years – that banks or bank tellers, if they suspect that someone who, let’s say, is bringing an elder person into the bank and using that elder person’s ATM card as you say, or withdrawing money otherwise, that the teller or the bank itself has some responsibility in contacting authorities, or am I wrong on that?
No, you’re right on it. But it takes an attentive teller or an attentive bank person to see it because that is a lot of where the wrongdoing does occur. There’s, kind of consistent with that, FINRA, which oversees securities.
FINRA, what does that stand for? Financial – what is it? I’m sorry. I have it here.
Yeah, it’s in there. But they they recently changed their regulations so that effective early this year a securities, say, a broker can refuse to remit monies to the senior if that securities broker – the money’s tied up – but if the securities broker suspects that some elder financial abuse is occurring. And so FINRA is the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority.
Thank you. Yeah, so that’s the initials are FINRA. Do you find that in instances where, for example, an elder abuser is, let’s say, being challenged by someone. Either another family member, or maybe a neighbor neighbor or whatever, frequently will accuse the other person of lying – the one who’s saying ‘Hey, what are you doing with with my uncle here? What’s going on here?’ Do you find that frequently the abuser will accuse the other person of lying?
Yeah, and the abuser – exactly, that’s what an abuser will do. And the abuser will be very subversive, will tell the senior, ‘These people are after your money,’ or, ‘What these people want to do is have you sell your house and have you lose your house.’ And the other thing the abuser will say, ‘Well, I’m protecting you because every time they’re here, it just upsets you.’ And so – and that’s the reason to why the senior gets isolated.
Yeah, exactly, and that’s very troubling to good people who are trying to do the right thing for an elder for their parent or grandparent. To suffer the insults of the wrongdoer. In California, I believe, in nearly all counties if not all counties, there is an office of the Adult Protective Services. How effective would you say, generally speaking, if someone is concerned a neighbor another relative of the elder person (who believes that the elder person is becoming a victim of elder abuse financial abuse), how effective is it if someone who is concerned about this elder person calls the local County Adult Protective Services office? What might they expect? What they could expect is a visit from an officer, and that officer would then try to meet with the elder individually without having another adult immediately present so that they can communicate with them?
It can work, and there are, obviously, there are situations where it works very well. The places where it doesn’t work, because I take tough cases, but is where you have multiple, let’s say, you have wrongdoer family member and then innocent family member each reporting. So, the wrongdoer family member is – I’ve seen this – is calling APS and saying, you know, ‘My mother’s daughter is trying to get into the house and take her money, and and/or has come in and has stolen the silver.’ Again, lies. So and then APS at that point is stuck with the he-said and she-said. And so it doesn’t, you know, there are no magic bullets. It doesn’t always work, but it’s certainly better than not having it.
Mm-hmm. Mike, I want to thank you very much for joining us. Thank you for coming from Mather to join us here in San Francisco. Michael Hackard is founder of Hackard Law. He’s a member of the trust and estate section of the State Bar. His book, which I believe is an outstanding, wonderful piece of information for those of you who may be concerned about undue influence and elder financial abuse – The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse. It’s available on Amazon books, and also it’s available by Mike’s email address . Mike, thank you very much. Great to have you on the program, just super.