Protecting your elderly parents' assets: a mini-interview with an expert

If you read WalletPop regularly, you may have read about the sandwich generationfairly recently -- or maybe you've heard about it elsewhere. It's not exactly a phrase we coined. Either way, you know who they are -- the people who generally still have kids who depend on them, and parents who are getting along in years and depend heavily on their kids. They're in the middle, an independent generation between two sets of dependents.

As you know if you're in this group, the problems can be pretty overwhelming, and often it's harder to help your parents. You know that if your kid loses his summer job or has some trouble with their college application, you'll get through that. Your parents' problems are more complicated, of course; if things go wrong for them, they have more to lose. Because of that, when your parents are in their golden years, it often means that con artists are after their gold.And so I caught up recently with Jeannie Keenan, a registered nurse who is also the vice-president for the Indianapolis Area Office of My Health Care Manager, a national service that helps seniors and their families manage the complexities of older adult life. We could have talked about anything, but I guess because I had a recent post on my mind -- that of the grandparents scam -- we wound up talking about the ways con artists like to prey upon the elderly:
WalletPop: So when criminals are targeting seniors, what assets are they most likely after? Sure, they want it all, but are there favorite items that they particularly try going after?
Jeannie Keenan: Most criminals are interested in getting material goods to fence, like automobiles, jewelry, expensive artwork, oriental rugs or antique furniture. I've frequently heard of cons posing as appraisers who convince the elderly of appraising/reappraising items of value. In order to do this, items may need removal from the home, or often the person goes into the home of the senior.
WalletPop: That doesn't sound good.
Jeannie Keenan: The argument to the elderly is that they need to make sure their insurance coverage is adequate and/or that the items are provided for in their will. The appraisal makes it easier for the elderly to know just how much it costs, so it can be divided evenly between benefactors upon their death. If the items are removed from the house, the rest of history. If the appraiser comes into the home, he can gain access to everything the senior owns and actually "case" the residence to return later when the owners are not at home.
WalletPop: Yikes.
Jeannie Keenan: Another common con that can happen to anyone, but especially to older adults with multiple income sources such as pensions, IRAs, stocks and CDs is from 'fund managers.' They offer to help manage or consoldiate their accounts and down the road, large sums of their money come up missing.
WalletPop: So what are the most common scams you're seeing right now that are being used on the elderly?
Jeannie Keenan: There are just so many. And scam artists are always looking for opportunities. Anyone who provides a service from driveway seals to roofers to lawn care companies and painters can easily prey on the elderly. A lot of the time, the elderly can be fast talked into a good deal, especially if they are told their neighbor down the block is having the same thing done. Avoidance of anyone door-to-door soliciting or phone soliciting is a must. An open door is an open invitation for trouble.
WalletPop: What really stinks is that obviously there are a lot of good people out there -- honest roofers, honest lawn care companies -- do you have any ideas or thoughts on how to distinguish between a thief and a generally honest person?
Jeannie Keenan: It's sad that it has to be this way, but you really can trust no one until you check them out by looking into their references. You can also pay for a criminal background check. Utilize assistance through reputable companies that vet their employees and carry liability insurance.

Geoff Williams is a freelance journalist and the author of C.C. Pyle's Amazing Foot Race: The True Story of the 1928 Coast-to-Coast Run Across America (Rodale).
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