Saturday, August 27, 2011

Don’t Wait for a Healthcare Crisis To Start Managing the Affairs of Your Aging Parents

by Nancy Norris, CLPF, NCG
You’re a highly driven woman running your own business, trying to keep your company profitable and your staff employed, and you have two teenagers whose schedules could put yours to shame.  Today you get a call that your 85-year-old mother, who has become increasingly forgetful, was rushed to the hospital after falling and fracturing her hip. 
Your parents never drew up an estate plan and you are not authorized to handle your mom’s care.  In fact because of HIPAA privacy laws, the physician treating your mom has the right to call in Adult Protective Services.  If you think it’s implausible that your mother could be turned over to the Public Guardian where her assigned deputy is responsible for 60 to 70 clients, think again. 
The best way to avoid this nightmarish scenario is to have a conversation with your aging parents long before they are incapable of managing their own affairs.  In view of 30 to 50 percent of people ages 85 and older being affected by dementia, an estate plan and trust with designated appointees to handle health care and financial matters is essential.  If parents become incapacitated and can no longer take care of themselves, you don’t want them to end up conserved by the Public Guardian. 
Your parents may have a trust designating you as their successor trustee but they have forgotten to give you a copy and now don’t remember where the trust is, or else it’s out of date and needs revising.  The estate plan needs to reflect that you are also the designated health care proxy and financial power of attorney so you can step in if they become incapacitated.  As the designated agent you also need copies of all documents.  
Sometimes parents have an estate plan but worry that their adult child wants to take control of their affairs and they refuse to discuss the matter. 
Whether your parents have a trust or not, try sharing about your own estate planning efforts.  Find out if they have all the proper documents in place and tell them you would be assisting them only if they need your help at some point.  Reassure them that they are not relinquishing control just because they are doing their planning. Moreover, no one can step in unless at least two physicians confirm either parent’s diminished mental capacity. 
Enough can’t be said about adult children communicating with their parents about the future of their care. 
Nancy Norris, founder and principal of Norris Fiduciary Services (, is the consummate elder care advisor.  Norris is a certified fiduciary, private trustee and conservator, elder care estate planning specialist and financial planner, helping families from Sacramento to Monterey.  Norris has handled the most complex situations and can provide some "nuts and bolts" advice to women baby boomers caught in the sandwich generation on caring for their elderly parents -- without jeopardizing their own well-being or the health of their businesses. 

Tags: "eldercare services, eldercare consulting, trustee private trustee services,trust administration, trust officer, special needs trust administration, fiduciary in Santa Clara, fiduciary in San Jose, fiduciary in Bay Area, private fiduciary, conservator, power of attorney for healthcare, power of attorney for finance, executor, trustee services bay area, trustee services, private trustee, financial elder abuse, durable power of attorney, elder assistance, elder services, help senior"

Monday, August 22, 2011

When the Elderly Become Targets for Financial Fraud - Norris Financial Services

Here is a great article about elderly becoming targets for financial fraud. It was written by Pamela MacLean from the San Jose Mercury News.

Nancy Wright first noticed her father experiencing memory problems on a family vacation two years ago. The then-75-year-old retired IBM engineer from San Jose had misplaced his wallet with $1,500 inside.

"Dad had never done anything like that before," says Wright (who requested use of a pseudonym to protect her family's privacy). "The whole vacation he kept getting lost," she says. Wright wrote off his behavior to stress over her mother's health conditions and her dad's concern over those medical expenses.

Toward the end of 2009, family members were hearing Wright's father -- let's call him Gary Davidson -- talking several times on the phone about an investment he was making to create an online business.

By April 2010, the family decided it was necessary to intervene in his financial affairs. They soon discovered Davidson apparently had been swindled out of nearly $100,000 by phony companies promising to set up Internet sites on which he could conduct business.

Situations like Davidson's have become increasingly common. Financial exploitation of the elderly by commercial predators -- and sometimes by caregivers, neighbors or even family members -- has become a growth industry, estimated at $2.9 billion annually in the United States, according to a study released in June by MetLife. That's up 12 percent over findings from a similar MetLife study in 2008.

Financial abuse of seniors is expected to mushroom in coming years, says Shawna Reeves, director of financial education for the Silicon Valley Council on Aging. The number of people 65 and older in the U.S. will double by 2030 to 71 million, according to federal statistics.

In Santa Clara County alone, 563 reports of financial abuse of people over 65 were filed in 2010, according to Lee Pullen, director of the county's Aging and Adult Services Department (which also received some 2,100 reports of physical abuse or neglect last year for the same age group). The vast majority of those are resolved by replacing a dishonest caregiver or arranging for family members to co-sign checks, Pullen says. Criminal charges are rare, he says.

Still, the losses can be devastating not just to the immediate victim but to his or her entire family. Wright, who is 49 and has grown children, was forced to set aside her career plans to take over her father's finances. After piecing together bits of information, Wright says, the family found that immediately after one of the companies had received Davidson's first check, scammers apparently used his account information to make other fraudulent payments via electronic checks.

Overall, his credit union cashed 20 electronic checks allegedly created by scammers before the credit union reported unusual account activity to authorities, according to Wright. Her father also gave telemarketers credit card information, and some ran up fraudulent charges there, too, she says.

"I just felt kind of helpless," Wright continues. "It was awkward taking over his finances. He really believed he was doing good business transactions."

Later in 2010, the family had to move Davidson from his home to an assisted living residence. Now it is trying to sell his house, despite reverse mortgages on it, to pay for his care and the care of his wife, who is living in the same residence. Efforts by Wright's brother to track down the 15 companies and individuals who apparently cashed the electronic checks have been unsuccessful.

"These are complicated cases," says Janet Berry, a deputy district attorney for Santa Clara County's elder financial abuse unit, created in 1990. She declines to discuss the Davidson case specifically but did contact Wright in mid-July to explore the fraud allegations, the family confirms.

Prosecuting fraud aimed at the elderly is tough because such cases are often document-intensive, and they require the legal system to move quickly because of the victim's age, Berry says. In addition, families may be reluctant even to report fraud in the first place out of embarrassment or fear. To block efforts at recovering stolen funds, predators often locate offshore in the Caribbean, Europe or Canada -- which puts them largely out of reach of U.S. law enforcement, Berry says.

Despite such obstacles, the legal system is making some adjustments to help victims. In 2008, former Alameda County Superior Court Judge Julie Conger started running California's first elder court, which focuses on cases involving older victims of financial, physical or emotional abuse.
Contra Costa County quickly followed suit, expanding its services to include probate cases and family mediators, as well as civil and criminal cases.

Judge Joyce Cram presides over the Contra Costa County elder court in Martinez every Tuesday. "We consider it an amazing success," she says. The accommodations made in this court include cranking up the audio level, providing hearing devices to those who need them, displaying documents on large screens and convening court during the morning hours.

Cram explains that one critical factor for success has been finding ways to conclude related civil and criminal financial fraud cases simultaneously, in order to get restitution in the hands of older adults quickly and to cut down the number of court appearances.

However, before a prosecutor can get involved in a case, the victim or his family needs to assemble records showing probable abuse.

Wright says she and other family members have spent months trying to untangle the maze of banking and credit card records involving several firms, including one in Arizona and another in Southern California. In February, Davidson's family hired Nancy Norris of Norris Fiduciary Services in San Jose, which specializes in work for the elderly. Reached by phone, Norris says she charges by the hour for her services but declines to discuss her rates, for publication. She has helped Davidson's family pull together a detailed accounting for the district attorney and for filing a complaint with Davidson's bank, Meriwest Credit Union.

"Meriwest ... honored $53,900 worth of electronic checks with no signatures," Norris says. "That's where the bank was at fault," she alleges. The other $46,000 was lost in credit card transactions and money Davidson transferred on his own.

According to Barry Roach, a Meriwest spokesman in San Jose, the bank has written to the family in response to its complaint, but he says he cannot comment further on the Davidson case. He adds that any request for restitution in such a situation must be addressed to the banks that deposited the funds. In the case of electronic transactions, Roach continues, "the burden is on the customer to come back to us" over unauthorized checks. He says Meriwest's policy is to contact Adult Protective Services the same day it spots a suspicious check or bank draft.

State law requires banks, credit unions and other responsible fiduciaries to report suspected financial abuse to Adult Protective Services, says Mark Gonzalez, deputy lead county counsel in San Jose and a member of the county's elder financial abuse unit.

After receiving Meriwest's report of unusual activity, Santa Clara County's Adult Protective Services unit made three attempts to visit Davidson. But they were rebuffed by Davidson, who was fearful of government agents at his door, Wright says.

Though Wright hasn't given up hope that the family can recover a portion of his life savings, she says, "I wish I'd gotten involved sooner."

Had the irregular account activity been discovered earlier, it is possible a multi- agency task force could have been deployed. Like many California counties, Santa Clara County has created a Financial Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), which brings together several agencies to jump on possible elder abuse, and stop the money drain. According to Pullen, when an elderly person is being exploited, the Adult Protective Services can refer a FAST team.

But once it is on the case, the process may not be simple. Individual rights can't be usurped unless there is a clear lack of capacity, Pullen says. "They can refuse us at the door. They have a right to make bad decisions."

  • Unusually large bank or ATM withdrawals by an elderly person who cannot get to the bank

  • Check signatures that look unusual

  • Checks written to "cash" and negotiated by an elder's caregiver

  • Checks signed by a senior but completed by others

  • Large loans against home equity to pay for investments

  • New activity in accounts that have been dormant

  • Expensive gifts from an elder to a caregiver

  • Check or credit card transactions with telemarketers or direct-mail marketers

  • Contributions to newly formed causes

  • Investment in time shares, real estate, annuities or other financial products

  • Tags: eldercare services, eldercare consulting, trust administration, trust officer, special needs trust administration, fiduciary in Santa Clara, fiduciary in San Jose, fiduciary in Bay Area, private fiduciary, conservator, power of attorney for healthcare, power of attorney for finance, executor, conservatorship, trustee services bay area, trustee services, private trustee, financial elder abuse, durable power of attorney, elder assistance, elder services, help senior

    Tuesday, August 16, 2011

    What is a Private Professional Fiduciary?

    A fiduciary is a person who assumes responsibility for a position of trust.

    License requirements and oversight of Calif Fiduciaries: Private fiduciaries are governed by state statute. We are required to meet specific experience & education requirements as well as maintain annual continuing education requirements.

    Specific Roles a Fiduciary may perform:  Trustee, Successor Trustee, Conservator, Guardian. Power of Attorney for Health Care or Financial duties, Special Needs Trust Trustee. We perform trust administration and asset distribution upon the death of the trust creator. A professional fiduciary may also act as trustee during the trustor’s life if the trust creator has diminished capacity to perform duties.

    Why use a professional Fiduciary?  Sometimes the family does not want the responsibility or may not be capable of taking on the demands of a fiduciary role. The family member may not want to assume the risk and liability associated with being a trustee. In some cases there’s no family or friends to take on this challenging role. A qualified, properly trained professional third party can mediate and often times neutralize family conflict if it exists. A private professional should provide a more personal working relationship than a corporate trustee, such as a bank.

    Fiduciary Responsibilities: There are many responsibilities (see blog article for more description). Annual accountings are one very important responsibility that often get’s overlook when a family member, non-professional is acting a trustee. This can be the cause of strife between the beneficiaries. The trust assets must be strictly used as designated in the trust document. Transparency of how trust assets are being spent is critical for all beneficiaries. No comingling of funds.

    Selection of a Trustee or Successor Trustee: When preparing estate planning documents, the creator/trustor selects a successor trustee, and a POA for health & financial matters along with an executor of the will. When choosing who will act as trustee, or successor trustee, your choices include: selecting an inexperienced family member, a corporate trustee (bank), or an experienced, trained private professional fiduciary.

    Norris Fiduciary Services has extensive financial services background which proves to be an advantage when serving clients and managing financial assets in the trust. When selecting a private professional be sure they hear and understand what your needs are, that they are good listeners and communicate well with you. A private fiduciary also needs a business succession plan.

    Conservatorships:  Are always court appointed and are required if someone can’t care for themselves and has no power of attorney document appointing an agent. A Fiduciary may be the conservator of the person or of the estate. (See blog article on conservatorships).

    Power of Attorney for HealthCare: Can be put in place if the person doing their estate planning has the mental capacity. The Fiduciary would act as the health-care agent to carry out &/or make healthcare decisions specified in the health care directive.

    Power of Attorney for Finance:  Same as above, except the agent manages all or specifically designated financial matters for the person creating the document. The Fiduciary would begin performing duties only when the individual was unable to because of diminished capacity.

    How is a Fiduciary appointed:  Anyone who believes a person may need help with activities of daily living (ADL’s) and/or financial management can initiate the process to appoint a private fiduciary. The attorney may suggest that a private professional be used when doing the estate planning. If you have a loved one who needs assistance, we can offer guidance.

    Cost:  Fiduciaries are private professionals and our fees are paid for directly from the trust assets. In my practice I require a meeting with the prospective client or family member to do an assessment and discuss services that they may need. I provide a written fee schedule which will need to be signed. My fee agreement outlines the scope of services I would be providing.

    For more information please contact: Nancy Norris –

    Norris Fiduciary Services  408 294-5390

    Tags: "eldercare services, eldercare consulting, trustee private trustee services,trust administration, trust officer, special needs trust administration, fiduciary in Santa Clara, fiduciary in San Jose, fiduciary in Bay Area, private fiduciary, conservator, power of attorney for healthcare, power of attorney for finance, executor, trustee services bay area, trustee services, private trustee, financial elder abuse, durable power of attorney, elder assistance, elder services, help senior"

    Sunday, August 14, 2011

    What is Trust Administration - Norris Fiduciary Services

    What is trust administration?  What is a Trustee or Successor Trustee?

    Trust administration involves overseeing and properly managing the assets held within a Trust. Trust administration usually takes place upon the death of the trust creator. A trust is a form of legal property ownership. A trust may hold title to real property, such as real estate, or to financial assets, such as brokerage and bank accounts, etc. Trusts are commonly created as an estate planning tool, to avoid probate upon the death of the trust creator.

    When a trust is created, in addition to naming the beneficiary, a trustee & successor trustee must also be named. The trustee is usually the creator. The trustee or successor trustee is responsible for protecting the assets in the trust and ensuring they are used according to the wishes of the individual who established the trust. A Successor Trustee is also named to take over trust administration duties when the trust creator becomes incapacitated or dies.

    The trust administrator, also known as successor trustee, oversees the distribution of trust assets to the designated trust beneficiaries named in the trust according to the instructions of its creator upon his death.

    The beneficiary of the trust receives the trust assets without going through probate upon the completion of the trust administration.

    Types of trusts; There are Special Needs Trusts for people with special needs. Revocable Living Trusts are most common. Life Insurance trusts.

    The duties involved in trust administration vary depending on the nature of the trust created. The trustee has a fiduciary duty when performing the trust administration. This means he owes the highest obligation to protect the assets in the trust and the interests of the beneficiaries. He cannot divert assets, or comingle assets from the trust into his own name, put the assets at risk in any way or otherwise behave in such a manner that interferes with the purpose of the trust as determined by the trust's creator.

    Tags: "eldercare services, eldercare consulting, trustee private trustee services,trust administration, trust officer, special needs trust administration, fiduciary in Santa Clara, fiduciary in San Jose, fiduciary in Bay Area, private fiduciary, conservator, power of attorney for healthcare, power of attorney for finance, executor, trustee services bay area, trustee services, private trustee, financial elder abuse, durable power of attorney, elder assistance, elder services, help senior"