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By John R. Merlino Jr. Esq.
Founding Attorney

Q: What is financial elder abuse?

Addressing your financial concerns is a big part of the estate planning experience. Examining what you have and what you may need for yourself and your family now and in the future is all factored into what estate planning documents are best for your particular situation.

Medicaid planning is particularly important, especially for those who are of a more mature age. Proper planning, which may involve the use of trust documents, can protect your hard-earned assets while still allowing you to qualify for benefits in the event you ultimately need long-term care in a nursing home.

In addition to a last will and testament to dispose of probate assets and/or assets not part of a trust agreement, other documents that are part of an estate plan include but aren’t limited to:

  • a power of attorney- a document that appoints an agent to handle your financial affairs if you become incapacitated;
  • a healthcare proxy- a document that appoints an agent to handle your healthcare decisions if you become incapacitated; and
  • a living will- a document that allows you to precisely spell out the medical treatments you want (or don’t want) to have under certain circumstances if you become incapacitated. It often includes end-of-life decisions like DNR (do not resuscitate) orders, feeding tubes, hydration, antibiotics, artificial respiration, and more.

All of these documents force you to consider who the most trustworthy people are in your life. With respect to healthcare decisions, who can you literally trust with your life and who will follow through with the wishes you express in your living will in your final days? You also need to trust somebody with your finances, so you’ll want to choose somebody with both integrity and at least a reasonable amount of financial competence. The person you choose for healthcare decisions may or may not be the same person you choose for financial matters.

With respect to financial matters, some people turn outside of the family and look to financial professionals. That may be someone who has proven themselves worthy and whose sage financial advice has been proven to grow your nest tag over the years. But sometimes people, particularly vulnerable senior citizens, can fall victim to financial elder abuse at the hands of those they entrust to manage their financial affairs.

Recently, a Queens investment advisor was reportedly indicted on charges including “grand larceny, securities fraud and falsifying business records” after allegedly swindling approximately $11 million from elderly clients who loyally followed him when he ventured out on his own after working as a financial advisor in their neighborhood bank.

Sadly, the headlines are full of “Ponzi scheme” stories of unethical investment advisors who steal the life savings of clients that trusted them– – most often the elderly who often don’t learn until it’s too late that their money is gone and their future’s uncertain. When this happens near or after retirement, there is little or no time to work toward recouping those losses, leaving elders in financial ruin.

If you live in New York or New Jersey and are concerned that you or a loved one may be the victim of financial elder abuse or need assistance establishing or modifying an estate plan, Merlino & Gonzalez can help you. Contact us today to schedule a consultation.

From our offices in Staten Island and East Brunswick, we represent clients throughout New York and New Jersey in estate planning and real estate matters.

About the Author
John is a fierce advocate and the office guru for problem-solving and brainstorming. He guides clients through every stage of a real estate transaction from offer to contract, navigating through nerve-shattering home inspection and title clearance concerns, maintaining constant contact with lenders, conducting the actual closing, and continuing to advise clients with regard to any post-closing concerns.  John brings a practical and fair-minded approach to the process which has earned him the respect of his clients and peers.