Be Alert for Financial Exploitation of the Elderly.

Author:Burns, Guy M.
Position:Trial Lawyers Forum
 
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Since the end of World War II, the greatest accumulation of wealth in the history of the world has been amassed in the U.S. We are now witnessing the greatest transfer of wealth ever encountered. (1) Survivors of the greatest generation (those born in the 1920s and 1930s) will leave behind $12 trillion, and the baby boomers will transfer more than $30 trillion--all in the next two to three decades. (2) Because much of this money will be transferred more than once, as the members of each generation die off, some estimates predict that over $60 trillion will be transferred over the next few decades. (3)

This financial accumulation and wealth transfer is not limited to the oft-reported top 1 percent. Credible reports currently estimate the number of millionaires in the U.S. to be between 11 million and 15.6 million, with the number growing by about 400,000 per year. (4) At the upper range of these extremes, nearly 6.5 percent of the U.S. population has achieved millionaire status. It is reasonable to assume nearly every practicing attorney in Florida has millionaire clients, and will face issues regarding the transfer of wealth from these clients to the next generation. (5) The aging of many in this millionaire class creates a sea of opportunities for exploitation of the elderly by financial advisors, relatives, con-men and women, and outright thieves.

The irresistible lure of money has given rise not only to a sophisticated and legitimate industry of financial advisory services and tax planners, (6) but also a nefarious underworld populated by various types of predators, some of whom may be affiliated with large, legitimate investment firms. There are several areas of financial vulnerability for older adults who are dealing with even moderate wealth. In addition to end-of-life medical expenses, the elderly are vulnerable to those who attempt to take their money by fraud or deceit, and by those who exert undue influence over the elderly person's testamentary intent.

We can most certainly expect a continued increase in classic will contest cases. In addition, Florida lawyers will see an increase in the number of cases arising out of the pre-death financial exploitation of the elderly. Civil remedies under Florida's Adult Protective Services statutes, codified in F.S. Ch. 415, can be an effective weapon in seeking redress for this exploitation. This article discusses some of the vulnerabilities of the elderly and potential civil legal remedies to financial exploitation.

Florida: A Target-Rich Population

While California has the largest number of elderly, Florida has, by far, the country's greatest percentage of individuals over age 65 -currently, more than 19 percent of the state's population, and growing every day. (7) According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the country's elderly population will double between now and the year 2050 to approximately 80 million. This increase is exponential: From 1960 through 1994, the oldest of the old--those aged 85...

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