In March 2017, Milwaukee WISN 12 reported a heart-wrenching story about a criminal investigation alleging two neighbors defrauded a 92-year-old woman suffering from dementia.
According to the allegations, they acquired her home as a gift through a deed and gained control of her nearly $2 million in assets through the execution of a durable power of attorney document. The neighbors then boxed the woman’s belongings up, moved her out of the home she grew up in, and used her funds to remodel the house. You can read the full story here.
Unfortunately, this is an all-too-common story in the world of inheritance litigation. I regularly receive calls from previously unsuspecting individuals who have just realized that a loved one was financially abused during the victim’s most helpless moments. Sometimes we are fortunate enough to suspect this while the victim is still alive so we can try to do something about it. More often than not, nobody recognizes this until after the victim has died. The shock usually comes when this person receives the victim’s purported estate planning documents—whether a will or a trust, or their amendments—that dramatically change the expected inheritance of some or all of the victim’s family members.
This type of situation happens more than many expect. As we become more aware of this problem through stories such as this and learn more about the effects of dementia and other diseases, it is important that we as a society are mindful of this issue. Of course every person, including our oldest population, has the right to do with their property as they wish. It needs to be as a result of his or her free will, however, and not at the hands of an individual with ulterior motives.
In the right circumstances, civil litigation may be the best way to position yourself to thoroughly investigate these matters. This is particularly so if you did not have reason to suspect the abuse until after the victim has died. Unlike the example above, criminal prosecutors are often limited in their ability to conduct a thorough investigation into matters involving a person’s rightful estate. The obligation is often on the aggrieved person to protect his or her own rights.
I encourage you to look at the various resources referenced in the article and in your community if you fear a loved one or you are potential victims of financial abuse.