7 Tips for Seniors to Avoid Financial Exploitation May 14, 2012, 8:00 am By Emily Haleck

Guest post by Jilenne Gunther, MSW, JD, Utah Division of Aging & Adult Services

The average victim of financial exploitation in Utah loses $57,000. How can you protect yourself from being exploited? Here are some tips:

Ask for Help from Someone You Trust 

Financial matters can be confusing and difficult. If you have questions or need assistance, ask for help from a trusted family member, friend, clergy or other professional.

Stay Socially Active

Social isolation increases your risk of becoming a victim of abuse. Learn about the many programs in your community that encourage seniors to socialize, including senior center programs.

Choose an Agent Carefully

If you have a power of attorney for your finances, choose an agent carefully. Choose an agent that you absolutely trust, who is reliable and who has your best interests in mind.

Limit the Power Given to Your Agent

To avoid a potentially abusive situation, be very careful not to grant broad authority to your agent. Clearly state what rights you are granting and limit your agent’s authority to what is needed. For example, if you want someone to only pay your bills from your checking account, only give your agent the right to access that account. Never use a form to draft your financial power of attorney. Forms are often general and give agents broad power that they might not need. 

Appoint a Monitor

Occasionally, agents misuse a Financial Power of Attorney by transferring property without paying a fair amount for the property or by trying to pressure or mislead you into a financial decision that is not in your best interest. Appoint a monitor to oversee your

agent to ensure the agent is properly using his or her  authority. Bank of American Fork offers a unique third-party monitoring tool that allows a monitor to have view-only access through online banking or by receiving copies of bank statements.

Talk to Your Banker About Your Best Banking Option When You Need Help With Your Finances

If you need help with your finances, talk to a customer service representative about the most appropriate bank account for your situation. Oftentimes when seniors need help with paying bills, they will just add their child or nephew as an authorized signer or joint owner of their account. Although these arrangements are convenient, they are also risky because both people have access to the money in the account. For example, if you have a joint account with your nephew and he fails to pay back his car loan, the creditor can take the money from the joint account to satisfy your nephew’s debt. There are better ways to allow people to manage your money. Talk to your banker about an appropriate option for you. In addition, you should never let someone borrow your ATM card or credit card, or give them blank checks. Frequently monitor all your account statements, check your credit report annually, and make sure your bank has a signature card on file for you. 

Be Extremely Cautious in Deeding Real Property

Although there may be legitimate legal reasons for deeding your house to your children, it is not wise to do this without legal advice. Once you have deeded your home, you may no longer have the rights to live in it or sell it. While you may think that your children would never kick you out of your home, it does happen. Just check out this story.

For more information on how seniors can avoid financial and other forms of exploitation, order a free copy of Navigating Your Rights: The Utah Legal Guide for Those 55 and Over, authored by Jilenne Gunther and published by the Utah Department of Human Services.

Jilenne Gunther is the state leader on elder law for the Utah Division of Aging and Adult Services.  She is an attorney, author, straight talker and avid adventurer.

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