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Warning for Minnesotans: watch out for financial abuse of elders

Recently, Minnesota's Commerce Commissioner urged the families of senior citizens to use tax time as an opportunity to look for signs of financial abuse, and a recent insurance industry study may give Twin Cities residents extra cause for concern over the estate of a senior loved one. The study concluded that as many as 60 percent of cases reporting financial exploitation of vulnerable adults involved coercion or undue influence by a grown-up child.

Seniors who own real estate may be particularly vulnerable to fraud, which in turn threatens to deprive heirs of a future inheritance. In one case, a son convinced his elderly mother to take out a reverse mortgage totaling $100,000, only for the son to gamble away the entire payout. The son faced criminal prosecution, but only after depriving his mother's estate of much of the value of her property.

Similar stories abound. For example, the daughter of one woman diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease misused funds from a reverse mortgage to pay off credit cards and buy herself gifts. In another particularly disturbing case, a man used the threat of suicide to coerce his grandparents into giving him money from their reverse mortgage arrangement.

Minnesotans with seniors in the family would do well to stay alert for signs of elder financial abuse. Even with a guardianship or conservatorship in place, seniors may still be susceptible to fraud in the absence of oversight by concerned family members. In some cases, the damage caused by fraud against seniors cannot be undone unless acted upon quickly, which is why anyone who suspects a vulnerable adult is being exploited will want to be aware of all the legal options for protecting their loved one and his or her assets.

Source: Chicago Tribune, "When senior mortgage fraud hits home," Lew Sichelman, March 16, 2012

Source: Spotlight on Elder Abuse, "New Effort Targets Elder Fraud, Financial Abuse (MN. USA)," Feb. 14, 2012

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