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Conservatorship ends exploitation of vulnerable adults

Readers in the Twin Cities may take interest in a recent case involving the financial exploitation of vulnerable adults by an unscrupulous deli owner. The deli owner succeeded in defrauding three seniors out of more than $200,000 of a substantial inheritance and may have continued to get away with robbing the unwitting heirs if not for a court-ordered conservatorship.

The deli owner apparently befriended the three elder siblings after she overheard them discuss their inheritance in a telephone conversation. Over time, the she convinced the siblings to grant access to their bank account and hand over their inheritance checks.

A bank employee eventually noticed an unusual number of withdrawals from the siblings' account and discovered that nearly all the checks paid out of the account were written to the deli owner for cash. The bank contacted the police and the local probate court. Because two of the siblings had been appointed as conservators for their brother, the probate court was able to freeze the bank account and prevent any further fraudulent withdrawals.

A conservatorship authorizes a responsible third party to manage the finances of a person who suffers from a disabling condition and is incapable of making personal financial decisions. The probate court monitors and retains authority over the conservatorship. In this case, the court's authority spared the senior siblings from potentially having their entire inheritance siphoned away to the deli owner's benefit.

The case of the crooked deli owner highlights the unfortunate ease with which a dishonest person can take advantage of a vulnerable senior, but the case also illustrates the importance of a conservatorship as a legal mechanism for protecting estate assets.

Minnesotans with concerns about the capacity of an elder loved one to manage financial affairs will want to have a good understanding of the duties of a conservator. Additionally, it is important to understand the legal process for establishing a conservatorship when the need arises.

Source: Connecticut Post, "Deli owner charged with bilking seniors of $200K," Genevieve Reilly, May 14, 2012

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