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Interview with Kathryn Zox | Spotlight on Elder Financial Exploitation

Interview with Kathryn Zox | Spotlight on Elder Financial Exploitation


I’m Katherine Zox, your social worker
with a microphone. And you’re listening to the Katherine Zox Show. Joining me
today is attorney and author Michael Hackard, Esq. His new book is
Alzheimer’s, Widowed Stepmothers & Estate Crimes: Causes, Action
and Response in Cases of Fractured Inheritance, Lost Inheritance and
Disinheritance. Nearly half a million new cases of Alzheimer’s are diagnosed each
year in the United States, and nearly six million Americans currently live with
the disease. Sadly, anyone with Alzheimer’s or
dementia is a potential victim of inheritance-related exploitation. Michael
Hackard’s book is an invaluable guide for the millions of Americans struggling
with cognitively impaired family members and inheritance related conflicts. He’s
practiced law for over 40 years and has been interviewed regularly by local and
national media, including Wall Street Journal, Market Watch, MSN Money, C-Span
and many more, and has testified before the House of Representatives. Welcome to
the show, nice to have you on, Michael. It’s great to be on. Thank you, Kathryn.
So, unfortunately, we do need your book, fortunately, but unfortunately, I
guess, this problem of inheritance and disinheritance and all these kinds of
ugly things that happen to people, who as they get older and maybe develop
dementia or Alzheimer’s, are really misrepresentative – maybe I guess more so
that’s kind of, like, maybe not a strong enough word by their family members. And
it is a real problem and this is so, hence your book. So, what is happening, I
mean, is that this is something that is getting worse and worse.
Because people live longer and sicker and mentally, you know.
I think you have it right. People are living longer, so we see a higher,
certainly a higher numerical incidence with, you know, as 500,000 new cases per
year of Alzheimer’s. The the other problem with it is there there
was a recent study that about 55% of all Alzheimer’s patients are not even told
of their disease. And their family’s not told of the disease, so that’s rather
baffling because it creates all kinds of problems. One is it doesn’t offer family
enough information to start instituting preventive measures. And even for the
victim himself or herself, it’s probably baffling is what’s occurring in their
own mind so and then… Are you saying, I have to stop you. I want to stop you
because you’re saying that physicians, let’s say you have a
diagnosis of Alzheimer’s, so they know it, and then they don’t tell you or your
family? They keep it a secret? Yeah, there that’s correct,
that they don’t always know. It’s not terribly easy to diagnose, but
oftentimes the physicians may not be neurologists or psychiatrists that would
readily identify it. So they’re, say, family treating physicians, and they, we
all know about health care, people get very little time with their physician. So
they might ask some simple tests like, “What is today?” “Who’s the President of the
United States?” Ask a few things like that. And they figure if people can answer that,
that they’re okay. But so that’s part of the problem. There are new laws going
into place to treat or rather to teach nurses and general physicians as to the
signs of dementia and Alzheimer’s. Right, given that, let’s say we have somebody –
a parent, I mean, a relative or whoever, who is, say, the
trustee of an estate and has good intentions? That then, maybe, we can assume
there’d be a good outcome. But let’s say they don’t have good intentions. And you
talk about different cases, I think, in your book, and maybe we should go through
some of them, of what can happen when perhaps a family member who is a trustee
is not really interested in the best interests of the patient but is more interested in how much money
they’re going to inherit for themselves or their families. then what happens? Yeah,
we’ll start with the family members. And there are again studies; about sixty
percent of the primary financial abuse against seniors is started by family members.
Caregivers are about another fifteen percent, and then neighbors
almost twenty percent. So what happens is oftentimes the family member is
dependent – starts with being dependent on the elder or the parent and maybe
doesn’t have a job. Oftentimes alcohol or substance abuse problems. But as time
goes on, that parent becomes wholly dependent on that child- to say, on that
child of living in the home. So it just – it generates into something like- I see
it just so many times. It generates so that the dependent child says, “Yeah, I’m
the one that takes care of you. Everybody else doesn’t care about you, and if you
don’t give me everything, or if the trust doesn’t give me everything, then I’m
going to leave. You’re gonna end up alone or kicked out of your house, or you’re
going to be completely alone.” And of course, going along with this is
isolation. I might add, too, Kathryn, just because of the the books, and
I’ve been at this for so many years. I probably – well, we counted. Normally
we’re getting about thirty to forty new calls or emails per week from people
asking about this, oftentimes asking about the legal issues associated with
it. So I hear these stories time and time again. And of course we’re taking certain
cases and going after people that abuse seniors. Can you give us, I mean, obviously
without revealing who the clients are, but the case history, you know, the
specifics of the case, like if you’re getting all those calls thirty or forty
a week? There have to be a lot of different kinds of scenarios. Let’s talk
about some of them because that was what makes it real, and
obviously makes it interesting and proves the point. Yeah, well, there
are many, but I’ll just cover a few that instantly come to mind.
So a 90-year-old person whose life plan and estate plan has always been that
been split equally their estate between their two daughters. And one daughter
dies, the other daughter lives further, or you know, hundreds of miles away from the
senior. But there’s a neighbor nearby, and the neighbor basically unduly
influences that senior to give her two hundred fifty thousand dollars. There’s
also a caregiver who’s in on the act to get two hundred and fifty thousand
dollars. And in that particular one, there’s a financial advisor as well who
got his own interest at stake to be appointed as the trustee of the estate.
And essentially the surviving daughter gets cut out for the most part. So that’s
a situation I see time and time again. Other really common situations – we
have several of them now pending – again it’s the caregiver child whose substance
substance abuse, who hasn’t worked for years, cuts out all the other siblings while
the parent is alive and isolates, say, his mother against the other sibling so
other siblings even showing up at the door, they’re told you can’t see mom.
She’s asleep, you know. You just can’t see her. Or their
telephone calls go unanswered. Mom’s phone is gone so that the only access is
the caregiver’s phone. And in those cases you see sometimes transfers prior to
death, and many other times, it’s just the trust itself has been changed. And
oftentimes it’s in the last days of life to benefit only the caregiver child and
cut out everybody else. That, again, is very common. I
want to just, Michael, take those two scenarios, and what do you? Do let’s say
someone’s calling you up and saying “This is the problem,” you know, I’m the daughter
and I got cut out of it and say, in the first case, you know, the financial advisor
got 250, and the caregiver got 250- Everybody got the, you know, the remainder
of the estate, except for me. So then, what is the – what can that person do? Well, we attack it in two different ways:
one is in many courts of the – of our nation, there are both probate courts,
as well as the civil courts. So we in California, we attack, we attack in the
probate court to show that the trust was the result of undue influence. That’s one
issue, or we may also show that the decedent didn’t have capacity to make
the trust, and I’ll talk about the ways to go about that, that are gathering
medical records, testimony of people that knew the decedent, and often, and then
we’ll have a neurologist or a geriatric psychiatrist review those records
because they just know a lot more about it. That’s one element, we also attack in
the civil courts, and because we have particular statutes allowing for elder
financial abuse civil actions that are subject to a jury trial, and have a lower
standard of proof called, just the preponderance of evidence. For those that
have sat on jury trials in civil trials, they’ll know that it just means more
likely than not, some of the statutes also allow for attorneys fees assessment
in those cases. And that’s, that’s really a strong hammer against wrongdoers, and
it’s a hammer we regularly use. In fact, the legislature encourages it. It became –
they changed some laws to basically encourage families and lawyers to do
civil enforcement of these rights. That’s for people that have died
that – okay, go ahead. I was just gonna say, is it very different in
different states? I mean, the statutes are very different? They’re getting closer to each other. I’m more familiar on the states, well
say, Florida and California law, but there are efforts to – not to make uniform
laws with regard to it, but efforts to protect seniors. And so, oftentimes these
laws will reflect the more – are the stronger laws, such as what California
has, or what Florida has. What’s the worst, if you can describe the
worst case, I mean, you’ve been practicing for over forty years,
perhaps that you’ve seen? Deathbed cases are tough cases. Sometimes
where seniors have been ignored, and isolated, and maybe don’t even
know who they are anymore, and seeing – and I’ve seen this so many times, but seeing
somebody show up at their deathbed. It could be a caregiver, it might be a
family member freezing others out. Those are probably the most emotionally
damaging to family victims. And, that you could have a – again, you could have a
caregiver in the hospital telling the nurses that they’re the daughter, and no
one else is to see this, you know, the person who’s dying. That does happen.
They may have set things up beforehand so that they are the person designated
on the advanced health care directive to direct the medical care, and
Irene, I mean, I’ve had people coming into my office that, their – one in particular
comes to mind. Her father was dying in the local hospital. It was a stepdaughter,
had come in, and claimed that she was the – I guess she
claimed she the only child, so that the daughter
herself couldn’t get in to see her father. And her father soon died, and we
litigated that case and resolved it but, those are sad cases because people just
feel cut off from their parent that they’ve loved, and have been, you know, a
major part of their life. And then to get cut off, and it could be the last days, or
even the last years. Those are, those are tough cases. Those are very sad cases. Is
there any way, I mean, obviously you’re writing this book so it enlightens
people, and they have – they realize that this can happen. How – let’s talk
about how to prevent some of these scenarios. What can we do? Because
maybe, you know, a lot of us are gonna live to be 80, 90 years old, and you don’t
necessarily have to have Alzheimer’s, even dementia, but sometimes, you know as
people age, their judgment perhaps isn’t as good, and they’re, as you
say, they’re isolated, they tend to listen to the person who’s there, who may not be
the best person to give the advice, or you know – and so, how does that work? How
can you, sort of mitigate some of this stuff?
I think it’s mitigated by communication and open communication, and particularly
evident, you know, access, maybe not to – to withdrawing from financial
accounts, but access into seeing what’s happening in financial accounts. The
other thing is to – you know, enough visits to a parent to see what’s going on in
their own house, and are they taking care of themselves? Maybe they’re hoarding.
Are they – does it look like they’re losing properties? People that are –
that are ripping off seniors start with ripping off personal property.
The other thing is just testing the senior’s psychological health. And this is –
what often happens is, you show up to see your parent, or
grandparent, whatever that is, and the person appears to be afraid, and the
local caregiver, the caregiver sits in the room, or just outside the room, to
listen to everything that’s going on. And, and oftentimes, if they’re in the room,
will answer on behalf of the senior. That’s tough, because usually what’s
going on in the senior’s mind is they’re afraid that if they say anything wrong, they’re
going to be in trouble with their caregiver, and they’re going to get
punished that’s again, a very common scenario. You’ve seen it, I mean as I’m
listening to you, I mean, it seems to me you’ve seen every combination, every
permutation, every situation, I guess that kind of – I mean in your experience over
the years, which, it’s sort of difficult, I guess, I mean that – so, in other words, try
not to have the person be isolated. Seniors, I mean, isolating them, that
is, that’s a very effective way of manipulating people. And, you know, whether
it’s a caregiver, or a stepdaughter, or whoever it is, so other family members,
number one, should be aware of that, and make sure that that doesn’t happen, and
have a connection, even if they live far away.
Exactly, and maybe the connection is a trusted neighbor. Obviously, not all
people do bad things. There are a lot of people that reach out to others, and
help others, and don’t necessarily have their own interests at stake, but
rather the senior’s interests at stake. The other thing, too, the siblings should
try to communicate with each other as to what’s going on with the parent. Because if it’s
a sibling abuse, you’ll – the abuser will not want to be communicating with
the other siblings as to what’s occurring. What do you do in the case if
you have a lot of – if you have, say several siblings? And I’ve seen this over
the years, where you’ll have maybe two or three siblings against one sibling, and
so you ,know say, if there are four siblings, it’ll be two and two, and
so you have the siblings battling with one another. How does that fit into this?
It fits into it. And it’s not all always easily resolved. One thing that I suggest
to people is – let’s say that a parent does in fact want to favor one sibling
over another, for whatever reason, and let’s assume for a good reason.
So, some lawyers in the country will suggest that that senior actually get
interviewed by a neurologist, or he might view a geriatric psychiatrist as a
better choice to test whether that person has capacity, and whether
their decision to change their estate plan was the result of undue influence,
or rather was of their own free mind and will. That’s a good thing, so that if
you’ve got some sibling differences, and you want to preserve that estate plan,
that’s a very good thing to do. And we do send people out to psychiatrists
for a review. And we’re not sitting in on it, that’s an unfettered review and we’ve
actually had it come back before, “Well, this person really doesn’t have
capacity,” or, you know, he or she’s been unduly influenced, and that, that
helps us too. Because that trust is not going to hold up if that was, if it was the
result of undue influence. Sometimes it’s difficult for people, not just
financially, but just in terms of their own motivation, to get to an attorney, to
get to an attorney like yourself. And they don’t do it. I mean, they just – even
if they know something is going on, they for whatever reasons, they don’t seem to
handle it. But, can the whole process be made
simple, I guess, or simpler than it is. You know, I’ve seen families where, well,
they know this is happening, but they, they just don’t want to deal with it. Of
course, until the very end, and then it gets a lot – the situation and the problem
gets a lot more complicated. Yeah, it is difficult, and, what we do – and we
get overwhelmed at times, and that part’s tough, as I say that in many calls, but we
have an intake, one particular intake specialist that I then backup. And
sometimes we’ll have two intake people. And we might – we probably only take
about three percent, five percent of the cases that are presented to us. So I, at
times, when I speak to lawyers, I really encourage them to get smart in this area,
and to be responsive to their communities, to help teach people about
elder financial abuse, and how to protect elders. And we don’t charge when
we’re when we’re talking to people. Sometimes people call me and say, well, a
local – they’ve been to a local attorney who wants $300 or $500 to talk to them. I –
people have to make a living, but the other side of it is, I think start with
giving out free information that’s helpful to people, and then if it gets
down to the specifics of a case, well then, engage that person as a client. I
think people need to – lawyers need to be more responsive helping seniors out,
because we have. You know, I’m a senior, we have some 65 million baby boomers. Ten
thousand of us turn 65 every day in this country. This, this is a group of people that
needs to be helped and needs to be served. Well, I hope you’re one of those
people, I’m assuming you are, one of those who helps, you know, with, you
know, the shoemaker who doesn’t have a good pair of shoes, that you’re not one
of those lawyers who helps everybody else but haven’t helped themselves. Well, that’s funny, because actually we had gone
like, 20 years without changing our trust. It was a valid trust, and it worked, but
you know, then we had grandchildren and things happened, and so.. I have done more
work recently to keep up to date in my own life. That’s a good thing.
How do you – this is sort of the personal side
of it, I guess. You know, you practice for all these years, you see all the, I
guess, the bad things that people can do to one another. How do you keep up
your own, I guess, sort of good feelings, and, and not get overwhelmed by some of this,
this behavior which is very sad, I mean families who are together for many years,
and then all of a sudden at the end, you know, everything falls apart. I mean, that
has to have some kind of an impact on you. It has impact – impacts at times. It
does. But for every day that I have, it’s – Well, there was, there is this song by Don
Williams, it’s a country song. The song is “Lord, I Hope This Day Is Good.”
And I think of that, that song at times. And so, during my day, I do try to think I
am here to help people. It is overwhelming at times. And I think
that lawyers that are on the other side of us at times, maybe I take it out on
them a little bit, because if I think that if I’ve had one of those days where
I’m irritated over what’s happening to people, I think I can be tough on
those lawyers. Although, it’s not so tough that we can’t resolve it, nor do I
try to be rude. I try to have collegiality, but maybe I take it out a
little bit on the other lawyers. All right, well, I guess we can forgive you for that. This
is kind of another – social media. We don’t we don’t have that much time left,
actually. We have four minutes left. Like, how can, can that help? I mean, you talk about
information and lawyers now are more active maybe in communities, and
lecturing, and informing people, because how many baby boomers did you say we
have? 65 million baby boomers? 65 million, yeah. So, that’s a lot of people.
Online, are there reputable like, online information things, stuff
that we can get that give us sound, at least general legal advice as related to
this topic? Yeah, there, there are online
resources. Oftentimes, states will, if you look under financial elder abuse, states
themselves will have summaries of law and maybe advice as to how to prevent
elder abuse. There – what we put out on social media, we’re – I’m actually
speaking today from our own studio, but we do, we put up YouTube videos, they’re
normally two to three minutes each, and we have over 450 of them
up. We do about two to three per week. And for the most part, I’m
just trying to share information that, you know, that I know, and that’s a little
bit generic, but that can help people, and I think that’s one of the reasons that
we get so many calls. We oftentimes post you know, also on things like Facebook. It
doesn’t have the reach of YouTube, but we’re responsive in that way. And I’ve
encouraged other lawyers to do it. Just talk about, maybe you just talk about
what are people calling you about. Don’t share confidential information.
But that’s a very good test as to what’s going on in the
country, what’s going on in your local community. Because if people are calling you
about it, it’s a problem. Well, that’s a great idea, and actually, I’m gonna look
at – you said 400 on YouTube. That’s, what, two or three minute –
Under Hackard Law. Yeah, it’s quite a few. yeah a heckard law okay that’s easy so
well it was been great talking to we’ve got a lot of information today I think
this is going to kind of propel people to go on YouTube and look at your
YouTube information hacker claw but the title of the book is Alzheimer’s widowed
stepmothers and estate crimes cause action and response in cases of
fractured inheritance lost inheritance and dis inheritance and we’ve been
talking to Michael hacker today Esquire thanks so much for being on the show
today was great talking to you thank you very much I appreciate it

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