It was a beautiful day at Malibu, and Sara was having the time of her life, surfing.
Only she has no memory of being there after the auto accident, having sustained a TBI – a traumatic brain injury which put her into a coma.
Given the extent of her injuries, Sara made an amazing recovery. The structured settlement annuity her lawyer negotiated guaranteed a monthly income of $10,000 plus large periodic lump sum payments, all tax free, for life.
But the TBI played havoc with her reasoning and logical thinking. A conservator was appointed who saw to it that her money was spent correctly, not squandered or lent to family and friends.
But, just like many TBI victims, Sara wanted control of the money and retained an attorney to end the conservatorship. He cared more about his fee than what was best for Sara. It was a horrible mistake.
“I got into business deals, lent money, and thought that I was doing the right thing,” she told me in that unmistakable TBI voice. “This structured settlement has ruined my life, and I was contacted by a company who will cash it out for me. That’s what I want to do, I want it out of my life!”
Don’t Do It!
I calmly reasoned with her. “Please speak to my friend, Greg Honnegar before doing a thing. He is a licensed, professional fiduciary in Templeton, California and works with people just like you, who have lost the ability of making good financial judgments. Will you wait, please?”
Sara agreed and spoke with Greg who put her in touch with a counseling organization in her town. She now has a licensed, professional trustee who will help manage her money.
So, what can family and friends do when faced with a TBI victim headed for financial trouble? What are the signs? What explains their behavior? I put these questions to Greg and his associate, Bakersfield-based Jamie Urner.
How a TBI Impacts Them – What Family/Friends Need to Discover
Jamie: They have a hard time seeing the big picture and making the best decisions. They are often impulsive and will not listen to reason. They use their TBI as a crutch. Irrational and compulsive behavior is common. They do not have a filter of logic.
Greg: When the TBI victim suddenly wants to sell their structured settlement annuity, you need to discover why they want to cash it out. It can be drugs, a new ‘friend’ or romantic interest pressuring them. While always counseled not to, so often TBI victims tell so-called friends about the money they receive every month.
On one level they might realize the need for help in dealing with predators who show-up after learning about their ‘friend’s’ income. But their lack of insight and inability to reason logically makes them even more vulnerable to being ripped off.
Warning Signs – What to Do
I asked Greg and Jamie to set out the warning signs that a friend or family TBI victim is headed for trouble. They listed:
(1) Overspending on wants and not meeting their needs.
(2) Spending compulsively. Buying 14 pairs of sunglasses and yet has no money to afford groceries.
(3) Hygiene and appearance issues. They are suddenly not taking care of themselves.
Jamie: When you see any of these things happening, get them to a medical professional, such as a neurologist, or someone who works with brain injuries. You must address the underlying physical condition and opiates, or other pain medication. What is their medical, or psychological condition? Are they delusional?
Greg: If it is clear they have lost the ability to manage money, you’ve got to speak with an attorney who handles guardian or conservatorships. If you cannot afford to hire an attorney, every county has these services available as well.
Ideally, a spending plan will be developed based on their income and the person’s basic needs: food medical care, housing, etc. Attempt to do this with the person, so you can all agree if possible.
Family and friends need to have a dialog with them, to understand what they really want out of life, not what we want, what they want. It comes down to needs and wants and the reasonableness of both.
Jamie: As fiduciaries, we often recommend the True Link pre-paid Visa card for these people. It is a debit card allowing selection of a defined batch of necessities, vendors, dollar amount, type of merchandise, no over the phone purchases, no alcohol or tobacco. It prevents them from obtaining cash. Every time they use it the fiduciary or other designated people get a text on their phone.
Both Greg and Jamie cautioned, “Do not wait for things to improve by themselves.”
Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and enjoys hearing from his readers. Contact Dennis Beaver.