Q&A: McGeorge elder law fair can answer seniors' financial, health questions

04/05/2013 12:00 AM

04/06/2013 8:57 AM

At the McGeorge School of Law's first senior financial and health safety fair Saturday, experts as well as volunteers from the school's elder law clinic will address older adults' concerns about financial abuse.

Melissa Brown, who specializes in elder law and supervises the McGeorge elder law clinic, expects up to 150 older adults to attend the fair, which will include health and blood pressure screenings as well as 25 booths offering information on estate planning, scams and other financial topics of concern to seniors.

She will also speak at the fair, scheduled for 9 a.m. to noon Saturday at the clinic, 3200 Fifth Ave. in Sacramento.

What is the biggest concern seniors have about their finances?

Their biggest concern is having enough money to support themselves and keep their homes. What we see a lot in the clinic is affinity fraud – familial financial abuse – which involves being pressured into adding someone to the deed on the house. Then the second party takes out a reverse mortgage and doesn't pay on it, and the senior loses the home.

Or the senior gets a home equity line because someone in their life needs money. That person promises to pay them back and doesn't, and the senior is stuck paying high and variable interest rates.

We've seen seniors prepare a financial power of attorney – and that's a good thing to do – but then that agent rips them off. We're representing a retired attorney reduced to living on public benefits because his adult son has cleaned out his accounts.

That's a crime. But people are very trusting.

Do you find that older adults hesitate to pursue legal avenues?

It's a difficult process. To admit this happened raises the issue of vulnerability and dementia. And in most cases, the money is gone. It's been gambled away or used to buy drugs.

With our clients in the clinic, if there's going to be any kind of power of attorney or estate plan, they need to be very clear to whom they give that power. Our students really vet that person.

Sometimes, seniors automatically want to give that power to their oldest child, but that's not necessarily the best person. Are they good with money? Do they have financial problems of their own? Not everybody is going to rip off a parent, but we want to know.

Do seniors worry about scams and fraud?

Any time Medicare enrollment season is on us, all kinds of people start calling wanting to verify numbers and attempting identity theft. We'll be discussing at the fair all the scams targeting seniors.

In general, seniors should not give out information over the phone. Don't provide private information on the phone. Ask them to call your daughter or your lawyer.

You really don't want to verify information on the phone. You don't want to agree to make payments over the phone or in person.

What's the best thing older adults can do to protect their financial health?

Before they allow anyone access to their accounts or financial information, that person should be solidly vetted. They shouldn't take out a loan with that person without getting legal advice.

You have to make sure you fully understand what you're doing and ask questions and don't assume that someone's on the up-and-up just because they promised to pay you back.

Call The Bee's Anita Creamer, (916) 321-1136.

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