By JIM FLYNN - Although achieving senior citizen status has its advantages ( $1 fishing license), most people would agree these are outweighed by the disadvantages. One such disadvantage is susceptibility to financial exploitation. An article in the current AARP Bulletin says when a person reaches their mid-60s, information processing slows; age-related brain changes hamper the ability to detect facial expressions indicating deceit; and lies repeated often enough can be perceived as true. Outsider fraud schemes aimed at older people are, of course, abundant. An even more pernicious problem, however, comes from caregivers, family members and others in close contact with an older person who are intent on exploiting that person's wealth. Such exploitation can take many forms, including unauthorized use of credit cards and bank accounts; changing beneficiaries on retirement plans and life insurance policies; placing property in joint tenancy; inducing changes to a will; altering pay-on-death designations for bank and brokerage accounts; and subjecting real estate to a beneficiary deed. Detecting financial exploitation is often difficult and frequently comes to light only after the victim has died. Then, the wrongdoer boldly asserts that the actions were in keeping with the wishes of the dearly departed, who is no longer in a position to comment. Colorado attempts to discourage financial exploitation of older people in a couple of ways. First, starting July 1 , people in health care industries, law enforcement, fire protection, social work, banking and government services, among others, are subject to a mandatory reporting obligation within 24 hours of observing exploitation - or the potential for exploitation - of an "at-risk elder," someone 70 years of age or older. Then, law enforcement and county social services agencies are supposed to investigate and protect the victim. Colorado's criminal code also makes it a felony to financially exploit an "at-risk adult," defined here as anyone 70 or older, or 18 or older with a disability, which includes numerous physical and mental impairments. The criminal code pays particular attention to financial exploitation of an "at-risk elder," meaning anyone over 70, regardless of physical or mental condition. The status of the victim as an at-risk elder can increase the severity of the crime. Of special note is a provision in the criminal code stating that anyone who exercises "undue influence to convert or take possession of an at-risk elder's money, assets, or other property" commits the crime of theft. "Undue influence" is then defined as the "use of influence by someone who exercises authority over an at-risk elder in order to take unfair advantage of the at-risk elder's vulnerable state of mind, neediness, pain or agony." Whether law enforcement agencies, faced with this murky definition, will pay attention to crimes of this nature remains to be seen. In my experience, past performance has been, well, disappointing. - Jim Flynn is a private attorney with Flynn Wright & Fredman LLC in Colorado Springs . Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org .
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