If It Looks Too Good to be True…
The sender – unknown. The subject header – “You’ve Won a Million Dollars..!” It couldn’t come at a better time. You’re retired and living off social security. Some extra cash would be grand. The email directions to collect seem easy enough. Simply deliver your birth date, social security & a $100 down payment. Throwing caution to the wind, you supply the info and hit send… You’ve unwittingly just become part of the statistics that show Americans lose $40 to $50 billion annually in telemarketing fraud and another $120 million in foreign lottery scams. Elder law estate planning contemplates preparing documents to allow for a comfortable living during life, as well as ensuring your wishes are carried out on death. An important part of elder law estate planning deals with protecting seniors from consumer scams. After all, if there’s nothing left when you die because you’ve given it away or had it stolen from you, the elder law estate planning docs you created won’t do you much good. In general, advising seniors how to protect themselves and their carefully crafted elder law estate planning schemes follows the old adage – if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.
Senior Scam Types & Elder Law Estate Planning Tips
Living Trust Mills
Fact. You need to get your elder law estate planning docs in order. Problem. You don’t know who to trust. Who can blame you? Avoid “trust mill” marketing schemes employed by salesmen posing as elder law estate planning attorneys. Check the California State Bar to verify attorney license status. Institutions that attempt to sell you a living trust and an annuity is a red flag.
Really? Fake charities..? Yep. People are that scummy. Anyone soliciting funds for charitable purposes must register with the State Attorney General’s Office, which provides verification of charity status. The better business bureau is another resource.
Door-to-door solicitors are required to have a business permit in most cities. Ask for it. Don’t buy anything on the spot. If you get wrangled into making a purchase, remember that in most situations you can legally cancel the contract within 3 days if it was made at your home or in a temporary business place.
Financial Advisors & Investment Scams
Be wary of “senior specialists” offering insurance and financial advice. Some “experts” use senior-related titles without having any relevant training or experience. Finding a competent elder law estate planning attorney is paramount to having your wishes carried out. New laws prohibit insurance brokers and investment advisors (and their agents) from using “senior” specific designations that could be misleading to consumers.
Funeral & Cemetery Fraud
You’re loved one’s rolling over in their grave at the funeral sticker price. The Consumer Guide to Funeral and Cemetery Purchase details requirements, pre-need arrangements and what to look for in a funeral contract. You can also verify a funeral establishment’s license or file a complaint with the Cemetery and Funeral Bureau.
Home Repair/Improvement “Deals”
It sounds like a good deal. They always do… A contractor quotes $10 thousand to redo your kitchen with copper tiles. You pay upfront. The job is done poorly (or not at all). Or, a plumber does a simple fix to your toilet and presents you with an outrageous bill. Get estimates, several references, and check the Contractors State Licensing Board to verify a contractor’s license status. Most importantly, get it all in writing. Your elder law estate planning attorney can help with the contract.
Some basic principles regarding California home improvement contracts are:
- Your home can’t be used as collateral in a home improvement contract if you’re 65 and older.
- The maximum interest allowed by law is usually the lesser of 10% of the repair price or $1,000. Hint: Don’t pay until the work’s done.
- A contractor is prevented from recovering compensation for any work performed (even if stellar) if the contractor is unlicensed at any time during the performance of the work.
Post-Death Identity Theft
Unfortunately, death is an opportune time for criminals. A search of deceased persons in obituaries and even genealogy websites can lead to unwanted dissemination of social security numbers, credit cards, driver’s licenses, and more. How do you limit exposure to identity theft?
Limit Reported Information
- Omit exact birth date of deceased in obituary.
- Don’t mention maiden names along with children’s names if the deceased is a woman. Remember, a common financial security question asks for your mother’s maiden name.
Notify Credit Bureaus
- Report the deceased status to all 3 credit bureaus.
- Get copies of the death certificate and deliver to all financial institutions.
Contact Identification Agencies
- Inform Social Security and DMV.