DennisBeaverJanuary 26, 2013  • By Dennis Beaver

It is likely that you have never heard of the term “orphaned elder,” but you probably know at least one person who fits the definition. Even going further, your concerns could easily be the very same as those emailed to us from Okinawa, Japan by Terry, an officer in the United States Marine Corps:

“My father lives in Central California, and since mom died two years ago, life for him has been difficult and very sad. He is 70, very much alone, and the few times that I have seen him since her death, I am more and more fearful of what will become of him, and just how vulnerable he is, especially where it comes to money.

“He retired from the oil industry and is not a poor man. But I know for a fact that his need to have some company led him to loan money to people who have no intention of paying it back. The few friends that he has try to protect him from those that may befriend him for all the wrong reasons, but something needs to be in place to better protect him and his assets. Do you have any recommendations?”

An aging population getting scammed

“There are a lot of seniors out there who are in that exact same situation,” Chris Kennedy, a California licensed professional fiduciary with Visalia-based Perine & Dicken Professional Fiduciaries & Conservators tells You and the Law.

“They are known as senior or elder orphans, living alone, lonely, have lost a spouse, and their family members are either too far away or do not exist. This makes them terribly vulnerable to being taken advantage of,” he adds.

“One of the more frustrating aspects of advances in medical science is that our population is aging at a dramatic rate, with never-before-considered social costs and very personal, individual and family concerns.

“Dementia and other age- and health-related conditions which reduce mental capacity take a terrible toll on the elderly and their families. While financial elder abuse has always existed, there wasn’t much of it in years past, simply for the reason that people typically didn’t live as long as they do today.

“The baby-boomer generation is now at retirement age, often living further from their children, and with fewer children than preceding generations. At one time in the U.S. and still in countries where large families are common — your children were your Social Security. They took care of mom and dad, protecting and caring for them as they aged. This is a topic of broader concern than we would care to admit at times,” he points out.

“And so today, as with Terry in Okinawa, the main issues include dad being taken advantage of, financially or otherwise, and being cared for when family is not there. Who does the family reach out to? Who do they contact when help is needed? What can be done now?

“These are important questions for families to ask now and have answers — well before a crisis develops — in order to avoid a completely unexpected nightmare they will need to address,” Kennedy maintains.

Ask ‘What if?’ well before the crisis hits

“While kids or loved ones may be around dad now, able and willing to help, what if they are not? What if marriage, work, the military or geography takes them far away, or worse yet, takes them out of the equation? What if they suffer health or financial issues and now the caregiver needs care?

“Both families and responsible elderly themselves need to consider the consequences of financial vulnerability, which is triggered by the fact that dad has assets. How can we assure those assets will be used appropriately? That is a critical question.

“When decreased mental capacity, loneliness and assets are mixed up in the bowl, it is a dangerous recipe that we see frequently,” Kennedy notes.

“This is very difficult to deal with after the fact, after someone has taken advantage of dad. If you do not deal with these issues on the front end, it becomes terribly difficult to handle on the back end,” he observes.

“And, talk about frustration and family pulling their hair out, how can you deal with the situation where dad tells son or daughter that he knows what he’s doing, to mind their own business, that if she really does love him that it’s his life and his money to spend any way he wants to?”

There are ways to deal with this, short of locking your father in the basement, and we’ll explore steps to be taken next time.

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.