A recent news story on a Bay Area trust dispute caught my attention - not necessarily over the legal details, but because of the general elements common to many cases of estate litigation. It has features we encounter all too frequently in our advocacy for beneficiaries: a successful family business, an ailing patriarch, his children from a prior marriage, and a stepmother. These are the ingredients for potential conflict.
Like other areas of California, San Mateo County is seeing an upsurge in cases of elder financial abuse. The reasons can be seen in demographics - by 2030, a quarter of San Mateo residents will be over 65. That means financial predators have a growing base of potential victims to exploit.
Next week on Thursday, October 25th, I'm honored to be the keynote speaker at Eskaton Lodge Gold River for a special community presentation on how seniors can protect themselves from fraud and identity theft.
A few friends and colleagues have expressed interest in having me talk about legal marketing - a subject that I both enjoy and regularly participate in. We should start with a little history. I became a lawyer in December 1976. At that time lawyers were generally prohibited from publicizing themselves or their law firms in newspapers, magazines, radio or television. It was expected that a lawyers reputation could only grow with experience and community involvement - an obvious advantage to those who had been in the legal profession for many years. Advertising rules began to change in June 1977 with the U.S. Supreme Court's landmark decision of Bates v. State Bar of Arizona. I've followed the effects of Bates since my very first year of law practice.
Photo Credit: Sam Beebe
When billionaire Douglas Tompkins, the co-founder of two major brands, North Face and Espirit, died in a kayak accident in Chile in December 2015, he left everything in his estate to his second wife, Kristine McDivitt Tompkins, as well as to foundations the couple created to preserve land in Chile and Argentina. His two daughters, including Summer Tompkins Walker, and his five grandchildren who live in the Bay Area, were all disinherited. This is yet another case of the widowed stepmother getting almost everything.
The Elder Abuse Guide for Law Enforcement (EAGLE) is now available online. "The guide is a national web module designed to support enforcement officers in identifying, intervening, and resolving cases of elder abuse...EAGLE funding was provided by the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) and was led by the University of Southern California's (USC) Keck School of Medicine, host of the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA)."
It's estimated that 5.7 million Americans have Alzheimer's dementia in 2018. The Alzheimer's Association identifies a number of early signs and symptoms. They are worth reviewing. Now, for every one of these signs, there are typical age-related changes not attributable to Alzheimer's. It might be a matter of degree.
This weekend I was a presenter at San Francisco Assessor Carmen Chu's Family Wealth Workshop. The title of my presentation was "Protecting Against Elder Financial Abuse." I was able to share stories with the community and they in turn shared stories with me. I find this the most gratifying part of these events.
Estate sales can be an emotionally wrenching, but sometimes necessary, step in moving forward after a loved one's passing. It's an unfortunate reality, however, that estate liquidation is also an opportunity for fraud and even elder financial abuse by wrongdoers.