I had a very dear friend, who never married and had no children. He wrote up an estate plan that left most of his assets to the community. In his late 80s, this kind and trusting gentleman began to be courted by a various people, all with causes of their own, who became his new best friends. Under the guise of supporting his will, they gained not only his trust, but also the ability to rewrite his estate plan for their own benefit. As I related this story to friends, neighbors and acquaintances, I found that nearly all of them had observed similiar events. Below are a few that I was told.
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Tracy was a spunky gal who had lived alone for years. She never married and planned to leave her house to Robert, the son of a close friend. After an illness that sent her to the hospital, Tracy was told she would not be released unless someone was able to check on her. Tracy hired Maggie, a home healthcare provider who visited daily for the first two weeks. As Tracy's health improved, Maggie continued to come by a couple of days per week. One day, while Tracy was napping, she woke to the sound of loud voices. It appeared that Robert stopped by unexpectedly, and he and Maggie were arguing over which of them would inherit Tracy's home. Disappointed by their behavior, Tracy told neighbors that she decided to change her will and to leave her home to her Alma Madre.
Leonard and Catherine lived down the street. When Catherine became too ill for Leonard to care for, Maggie was sent to help out. Six months later, Catherine died. Leonard soon died of a broken heart. After Leonard's death, Maggie moved into his home with several members of her family. Neighbors say that that both Tracy and Leonard had told them they met and hired Maggie through a temp agency. However, Maggie was now saying that when she "discovered" she was a distant niece of Leonard's, he decided to sign his home over to her.
Nancy's life always revolved around dance. After performing with several companies, she opened her own studio. Having never married, she told people her nieces would inherit her house and she hoped they might take over the business when she died. When Nancy's body began to give up, and she was confined to bed Andre, an old (younger) beau came to care for her. After Nancy died, Andre produced a will that left Nancy's home and all of her assets to him.
Being single, and living a simple life, Bernie accumulated a good nest egg by the time he retired. With no children, he asked his good friend, Karl, to act as executor of his estate. He told Karl he planned to leave much of what he owned to his neices and nephews. Later, Karl got very sick and was in the hospital for several days. After returning home, it was weeks before he was well enough to visit his friend again. When Karl tried to contact Bernie, he was unable to reach him. He later found out that a couple, whom they both knew, had offered their assistance to Bernie while Karl was sick. They convinced Bernie that Karl was not to be trusted, and gained Power of Attorney over his finances. When Bernie finally died, Karl was told that this couple began to boast to mutual friends that they had inherited his home as thanks for their care of him during his final days. The neice and nephews were left with nothing.
Tom and Mary ran a family business together for years. They didn't have a lot, but their income was sufficient to put their three children through college. After the last graduated, and they realized none was likely to take over the shop, they decided to sell and retire. Henry was working for a chain and it was his job to buy out small businesses in towns where the company planned to move. He approached Tom and Mary at just the time they hoped to retire, but his price was so far below the worth of their business that they decided not to sell. The pressure to decide what to do was too much for Tom and his heart gave out. Henry arrived at the wake to pay his respects. He was armed with a new offer that was even lower than the last, and convinced Mary to sign during her hour of grief.
Patricia lived alone, and was proud of her independence. She had neighbors who cared for her, and a son and daughter who visited frequently. Louise, a particularily friendly neighbor, was always willing to pick up an item or two at the grocery store, or to cash a check when she went to the bank. After Patricia died, her son Gregory and daughter Joan went through her home, sorting through belongings. Gregory, as executor of the estate, reviewed Patricia's checkbook and found the many checks that had been cashed by Louise. He immediately accused Louise of stealing thousands of dollars from his mother over several years. His sister, Joan, assured him that she knew their mother had been of sound mind, and that she had been aware of the assistance this neighbor had provided. Although this case turned out okay in the end, Louise realized that she never actually thought to get proof that she'd given the cash to her friend, Patricia. For many months after the incident, she continued to worry that if Gregory pursued his threat, she would not be able to defend herself.* Each of these summaries are based on stories I have been told by friends and acquaintances. Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those whose loved ones have been exploited
Stores like these happen every day. While we mourn those we love, others are taking advantage of their weakened state and of our loss to benefit themselves. One expert called Elder Financial Exploitation a "growing industry." If you have a story to tell, please share it by going to: ElderAware.org/modules/ElderSurvey/ ... or click here to contact us.