It’s a sad story, one we hear on the news from time to time: a vulnerable, elderly person is robbed by their own conservator. It’s a bitter tale, and it’s all too common. You never want to hear that someone close to you has fallen victim to a conservatorship scam.
Concerned? To establish whether someone you know has been scammed during their period of conservatorship, you need to look out for some key indicators. So, what are some of the red flags for a conservatorship scam on dependent adults? Read on so you can stay vigilant.
What Is Conservatorship?
First, before we get into conservatorship scams, we need to define what a conservatorship is. When a person can’t manage their personal care or finances due to any of the following, they’re put under the care of someone else.
- Chronic illness
- Lack of mental capacity
- Cognitive decline
- Incapacity due to aging
Having a third party to oversee the personal life and handle the financial decisions of an incapacitated person is known as a conservatorship.
How Conservatorship Works: The Basics
The court determines whether someone is incapacitated (can’t manage their personal life or financial matters) and needs secondary care. The person that needs advanced care is known as a “conservatee,” whereas the individual chosen by the court to care for them is known as the “conservator.”
Normally, the court appoints someone as the “conservator of the person,” a “conservator of the estate,” or both. As a conservator of the person, you have to oversee the personal care of the conservatee and ensure they are cared for. As a conservator of the estate, you have to manage the conservatee’s personal property (including real property) and financial affairs.
As you can see, the conservator has a critical role to play. They have a lot of control over the conservatee. Unfortunately, if dependent adults fall in the hands of a bad court-appointed conservator, they’re likely to experience cases of financial scams and mismanagement of their funds.
What Is a Conservatorship Scam?
After their appointment by the court, conservators must oversee the conservatee’s estate and financial obligations. When a crooked conservator uses the conservatee’s estate funds or financial power for personal gain at the expense of the conservatee, they commit financial fraud. This fraud is considered a conservatorship scam and is a form of conservatorship abuse.
Scams during conservatorship are common. However, in simple terms, a conservatorship scam is a situation where the conservator pretends to serve the best interests of the conservatee while channeling the conservatee’s funds for personal gain. When a conservatorship scam takes place, vulnerable adults can lose a significant amount of personal property or even their entire estate assets to their court-appointed conservator.
How to Identify Conservatorship Scams
There are many ways to determine whether this form of abuse has taken place without hiring a fraud expert. To determine whether your loved one has fallen victim, you need to take note of a couple of red flags during the period of conservatorship. Some of the common red flags to look out for include the following.
If you notice an unexplained transfer of title to the conservatee’s estate, it’s a clear sign of fraud. It indicates that the crooked conservator has committed conservatorship abuse transferred ownership of the incapacitated person’s assets into their name. If someone close to the conservatee doesn’t act swiftly, you may never recover some of these assets.
A Change in Financial Practices
Since most of the conservatorship scams revolve around the conservatee’s finances, you need to monitor any sudden changes. Do you notice any suspicious bank withdrawals, check transfers to unusual recipients, or new joint accounts in financial institutions? These are signs of elder fraud. The chief suspect of this financial abuse could very well be the person handling the conservatee’s assets.
A Lack of Basic Necessities
When financial abuse happens on the incapacitated person’s estate or finances, it could also affect the conservatee’s personal life. They may regularly find it hard to access basic necessities like:
- Medical care
Since the conservator may have stolen most of the conservatee’s funds using their durable power of attorney, the victim could fail to afford the basic stuff. If they seem poorly cared for, you may want to contact adult protective services while you sort out their financial affairs.
A conservatorship scam mostly happens when an incapacitated person (normally the elderly) does not have any other close person that monitors how the conservator handles their estate. When a bad conservator plans to exploit an incapacitated person, they isolate them from their family or close relatives and place them behind closed doors.
If you notice an instant separation of the conservatee from their family, relatives, or social activities they regularly engage in, it means that something unusual has taken place (elder fraud). Again, Adult Protective Services can be a good resource for this in addition to family and friends.
An Increase in Credit Card Balances
If you notice unusual and large credit card transactions, it’s a red flag. The conservator may be trying to scam the incapacitated person by using their durable power of attorney to get loans from credit card companies using the conservatee’s credit cards. The scammer can then use that money for personal gains.
When fraud happens, the conservator may hide most of the documents for key transactions. If the person under conservatorship complains about missing checkbooks, credit cards, and other valuables, it’s a clear sign of some financial abuse.
Apart from these six red flags, others include:
- A sudden change in the conservatee’s daily routine without some clear reason
- The introduction of a “new friend” or “new caregiver”
- Unexpected placement of senior citizens to conservatorship without following all the legal procedures of County Adult Protective Services.
What Are the Consequences of Conservatorship Scams?
When a conservatorship fraud or scam happens, it affects both the victim (conservatee) and the conservator committing the injustice. Here are some of the problems that can come up.
Consequences to the Victim
If they can get away with it, some conservators abandon the incapacitated individual upon misusing all their funds. Most individuals that had their estate funds misused by conservators live a difficult life after this. They may find themselves with inadequate funding to support themselves after their personal property has been stolen. Victims of conservatorship abuse may have insufficient housing and serious mental and physical health ramifications due to the theft of their personal property.
Consequences to the Conservator
If the conservator is found guilty of misusing the personal property and/or real property of the person placed under their watch, they’ll have to face the wrath of the law. If the incapacitated person regains their mental faculties or gets help and can forward the issue to court (though it may seem an uphill battle), the conservator can receive severe charges upon the confirmation of their crimes.
The court will likely ask the conservator to find additional funding to pay back all the assets illegally acquired from the conservatee’s accounts. The conservator also risks their names being removed from the registry of conservators due to the civil matter at hand. Finally, they may face jail time.
Ways to Avoid a Conservatorship Scam
Fraud experts report that everyone has a role to play in making sure that cases of fraud against a conservatee remain low. This role falls to the close family members, relatives, and friends of the conservatee as well as to the conservatee themselves when possible.
1. Ensure the Conservatee Maintains Social Contact
This is the easiest way you can detect any form of exploitation by the conservator. Conservatees must be encouraged to take part in:
- Religious activities
- Club activities
- Civic organizations
- Hobby groups
Members of these groups may notice if the victim suddenly has insufficient funds to care for themselves or other signs of this form of abuse by conservators.
2. Obtain Powers of Attorney and Estate Planning Documents
As a second elder abuse prevention strategy, make sure that an elderly person obtains a durable power of attorney and healthcare power of attorney prior to entering into the conservatorship. This helps to cover their financial and medical decisions if incapacitation occurs. It also minimizes the chances of their placement under conservatorship at all.
Even after creating the power of attorney document, elderly persons should regularly review them. They should also come up with a good estate plan, which can serve to deter abuse by conservators.
3. Enroll in Automatic Bill Pay
Additionally, elderly people should enroll in automatic payment for routine bills from credit card companies and utility providers. Paying bills via electronic withdrawals limits cases of fraud by conservators. and helps ensure the person’s basic needs are covered.
4. Select a Trustworthy Conservator
This may seem obvious, but a great way to prevent financial abuse by conservators is by encouraging senior citizens to nominate their conservators early. This helps to reduce the chances of one falling in the hands of a bad conservator during a period of incapacitation.
Do You Need Help with Conservatorship?
If you have a relative or close friend placed under conservatorship, you may want to ensure that no scam or fraud happens to them. Check out groups like the National Center on Elder Abuse and County Adult Protective Services for more help. If you’re ready to pursue legal action At A People’s Choice, we can help you with all the paperwork related to conservatorship, including removing an unfit conservator. To get started, just contact us at 800-747-2780.
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