Elder Abuse is On the Rise – How to Protect Your Loved Ones

Approximately 1 in 10 Americans, aged 60 or older, have experienced some form of elder abuse. As seen in the news, even Stan Lee, the well known and affluent face of the popular Marvel comics, is the possible victim of abuse at the hands of his former business manager.

Elder abuse can come in many forms. Physical, emotional, financial, neglect, and more. Families who hire private caregivers can often be at a higher risk for abuse because no one is monitoring the caregiver the way an agency or employer would. Additionally, while a private caregiver may be less expensive than an agency, you are responsible for the entire vetting and background check process, whereas hiring from a reputable agency will do the vetting for you.

We know that selecting the right caregiver can be a difficult decision both financially and emotionally. If you are in the process of hiring, make sure you get referrals, ask for training records, do proper background checks, and conduct face to face interviews.

In order to further protect our aging loved ones, it can be valuable to have a conversation regarding estate planning. Financial abuse from predatory caregivers can affect our elderly loved ones if they have no asset protection or are entrusting someone to help them make financial decisions.

A customized estate plan and living trust protect you during your life, and after you have passed your assets to your heirs. You have the power to decide who you trust to make financial, healthcare, and estate administration decisions to make sure you are not taken advantage of, especially if your elderly loved ones are incapacitated either mentally or physically. Setting the proper documents and protections up early keep your loved ones safe and their assets protected so you can focus on getting them the highest standards of care.

While a grim reality, “Elders who have been abused have a 300% higher risk of death when compared to those who have not been mistreated. While likely under-reported, estimates of elder financial abuse and fraud costs to older Americans range from $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually. Yet, financial exploitation is self-reported at rates higher than emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.”

Everyone should be aware of the warning signs of elder abuse including a sudden change in the person’s financial situation, withdrawal, bruising, unusual depression, and more. The National Council on Aging is a good resource for warning signs and where to report elder abuse.

At CunninghamLegal, our job is to make sure our clients and their loved ones are protected. For more information on setting up a custom estate plan, contact our team today.

Ask the Hard Questions – How to Have End of Life Conversations

Conversations revolving around illness or death are not easily broached by anyone. We tend to avoid these topics because we live in the present. No one ever plans on tragedy striking, and facing our own mortality can leave us feeling an array of uncomfortable emotions.

Over 80 percent of Americans will face a period of sustained disability before their deaths. That is a staggering statistic. Most of those Americans have not had the necessary, albeit difficult, conversations regarding their end of life wishes. Even those who have a “last will and testament” are not protected from fraud, predators, or creditors.

If you want a say in your own plans, if you are a caregiver for someone with a terminal illness or disability, or if you are worried about your aging parents, these conversations are necessary to establish a plan.

The AARP states,” More than 90 percent of people think that it is important to have conversations about end-of-life care with their loved ones, yet less than 30 percent have done so. Similarly, 70 percent of people say they want to die at home, but in reality, 70 percent die in hospitals or institutions.” That is a large percentage of the population that are neglecting the opportunity to have their wishes clearly communicated, alleviating emotional hardship and legal complications when the need arises.

Here are some questions to ask in your conversation:

  • Are there any current health or illness issues?
  • Who do you want involved in making your end of life decisions? This is especially important as you don’t want your spouse or children fighting or forced to make decisions without knowing what you would want.
  • What specific kinds of care would you like?
  • At what point would you like care to stop?
  • Do you have funeral arrangements or preferences?
  • Financially, do you have any savings set away for end of life care or arrangements?

This is just the tip of the iceberg which is why you can enlist support in making these decisions. An estate planning attorney can help you navigate all these questions and more. Your attorney will take into account the relationship between you and your loved ones, how you would like your assets distributed after your death, and they can assist you in creating a customized plan that includes all of the necessary documents to carry out your wishes such as a Durable Power of Attorney, Living Trust, and Advanced Healthcare Directives.

At CunninghamLegal, our team specializes in helping you have these kinds of conversations as well as creating custom estate plans that protect you and your family. Whether you are 35 or 75, these conversations are necessary. You deserve to have your wishes honored during your life and afterwards. For a consultation with one of our attorneys, register for one of our FREE seminars.



Few estate plans effectively deal with the common situation in which the caregiver, let’s say the wife, dies before her sick husband. How common is this?

Sixty percent of the time, the caregiving spouse dies before the sick spouse. Got that? Sixty percent of the time.

At first, this statistic seems counterintuitive. Shouldn’t the sick spouse die first? But think about it. Who is getting the proper nutrition? Who is going to their doctor appointments? Who is getting all the care? And who is getting worn out caring for the other?

Sadly, we often see this situation in our practice. Indeed, just to repeat the point, we see it more often than not. If you take away the cases in which the sick spouse has a terminal illness, the statistic is even higher.

Let me go back to the case of my grandmother. My grandfather was disabled for many years, and grandma took care of him with wonderful, diligent care. So diligent, that we had a running joke in our family:

“Grandma, let’s go have some fun this weekend.”

“You go ahead,” she’d say. “We’ll have fun when your grandpa dies.”

And we’d all laugh.

Well, she died in her eighties of that massive heart attack

I discussed earlier. He lived to be ninety-three. I think that taking care of him literally wore her to death. I believe she did not take care of herself properly. It’s hard for me to think about it any other way.


Again and again, my firm sees situations in which one spouse, let’s again say the husband, becomes incapacitated, and for a time, the married couple’s lives together go on functioning with some normality. The wife can manage most things by herself. They have joint accounts, joint tenancy in property, and the wife muddles through to make healthcare decisions for her husband. The couple figures that when he dies, she’ll still be in control of everything through their joint tenancy and joint accounts. So, they never get around to a formal estate plan.

But what if the wife suddenly passes away? Now, the husband lies helpless in his bed, without the mental capacity to manage his own affairs, and everything falls into chaos.

Like Jack in our previous example, let’s say this couple has a responsible daughter named Mary. This Mary is also willing to step in for her dad. But without a living trust naming her as trustee, and without a durable power of attorney, poor Mary will have to go to court and petition for a conservatorship. She will have to hire a lawyer. She will have to be investigated and approved.

Like Bob Jr. in Mistake #10, Mary will have to follow through in the same probate court, maybe in the same courtroom, but for a conservatorship. She will have to go to the courthouse and pass through the metal detectors. Thousands of dollars will have to be spent from the estate, not just to pay for the bills, the property taxes, even the funeral for Mom—but for court and attorney’s fees. If the family assets are large, or some other interested party like a sibling tries to interfere, the amount may be tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Meanwhile, Mary may grow frazzled and debilitated herself. She may have to give up a job to deal with this hassle. She may neglect her kids. She may endanger her relationship with her husband. In the Introduction, I said, “It’s Not about the Money (But It Is about the Money).” In cases like this, it may start out about the money, but in the end, it will be about the hassle. People would often happily give up their inheritance to be rid of the burdens which a death or disability has dropped in their lap.

If you have questions about caregiving or how a living trust can benefit your family, attend one of our seminars for a FREE consultation.