Elder Abuse

Does TV Mogul Sumner Redstone Have the Mental Capacity to Change his Estate Plan?

The decision on TV mogul Sumner Redstone’s estate plans, follows the settlement of litigation with his former companion Manuela Herzer. The Hollywood Reporter explains, in the article “Sumner Redstone Had Capacity to Change Estate Plan, Judge Rules,” that after Herzer was thrown out of Redstone’s mansion and removed as the person in control of his health care directive in 2015, she sued and claimed he didn’t possess the mental capacity to make decisions for himself and his business.

The fight included allegations of elder abuse against Herzer and claims that his daughter Shari Redstone was manipulating her father, which have now been resolved. Herzer agreed to repay the $3.25 million she received in gifts and to state that she has no decision-making power concerning Redstone.

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge David Cowan formally concluded the fight over Redstone’s competence, by confirming the validity of Redstone’s current estate plan.

“Mr. Redstone had sufficient capacity to execute the Fortieth Amendment to and Restatement of the Sumner M. Redstone 2003 Trust dated July 23, 2003, and the Forty-First Partial Amendment thereto on their respective dates of execution, October 16, 2015, and May 20, 2016,” writes Cowan, adding the changes “were not the product of undue influence, fraud, duress or mistake.”

Judge Cowan’s decision is no guarantee that there won’t be further disputes over what happens to the billionaire’s estate after he dies, but it does lend support to Redstone in weathering future challenges. This is particularly important, because a guardian ad litem was appointed by the court in December to ensure that the proceedings were in Redstone’s best interest.

“After three years of litigation, Mr. Redstone is grateful for today’s court confirmation of his capacity to execute his estate plan, and of his free will in doing so,” his lawyer Gabrielle Vidal said in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter.


Reference: The Hollywood Reporter (January 23, 2019) “Sumner Redstone Had Capacity to Change Estate Plan, Judge Rules”

You Can Avoid Elder Financial Abuse, but How?

The prospect of a long, healthy and active life is a wonderful thing to consider. However, one in 10 seniors have suffered financial abuse, according to The Kansas City Star’s article “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse.” The grandson of Brooke Astor spoke at a conference about how his grandmother’s last years were spent living in poverty, as a result of her son and guardian stealing from the estate and cutting the amount of money available for her care. The grandson and his brother sued their father to protect their beloved grandmother, a leading philanthropist and one of New York’s high-profile society figures.

However, elder financial abuse is not limited to the super wealthy or socially prominent. One report noted that one in ten seniors suffers some form of financial abuse.

Why does this happen?

As we age, our brain also ages making us more susceptible to making poor decisions. Even high-functioning retirees with no outward sign of dementia, find it harder to distinguish safe investments from risky ones. The probability of dementia also rises as we age: only 7% of people over 60 have dementia, but nearly 30% of people over age 85 have some degree of dementia.

Here are some suggestions to minimize the likelihood of financial elder abuse:

Communicate. Talk with your loved ones regularly, so you know how their health is and what they are doing. If they don’t want to talk about money, you can start the conversation by sharing something about your own situation. Remind them about safe practices like shredding receipts, bills and account statements. Remind them not to open emails from people they don’t know and not to give their Social Security number or account numbers on the phone or online to people they don’t know.

Stay involved. Know how your loved ones are spending their time and money, by staying involved in their lives. If they are hiring people to do work on or in the house, know who those people are and check their backgrounds. Get to know their home healthcare aides. Review their bank statements to ensure no unusual activity is taking place. If you see that they are starting to decline, offer to take over tasks for them.

Check and balance. Make sure that the correct estate planning documents are in place to allow trusted family members to help, if the need arises, such as power of attorney and medical directive. Divide up responsibilities; consider having one person in charge of bank accounts and another in charge of investment accounts. Trade responsibilities every few months.

Have a relationship with their professionals. Attend meetings with their estate planning attorney and their financial advisor. If there is any hesitation on the part of the professional, push back: any qualified estate planning attorney or financial advisor or CPA should welcome family involvement.

Streamline accounts. Fraud is harder to see when there’s money in multiple financial institutions with various advisors and life insurance policies from several different brokers. Spend the time to do a complete inventory of all accounts. If you can, consolidate accounts.


Reference: The Kansas City Star (Sep. 8, 2018) “Five ways to avoid elder financial abuse”

Professional Guardian Preys on Elderly in Nevada

Several people described their personal grief, and they read letters from several others who lost thousands of dollars and expensive heirlooms that would never be replaced because a guardian stole from elderly victims for whom she was supposed to care.

The Las Vegas Journal-Review reported in a recent article, “Ex-Nevada guardian to serve up to 40 years behind bars,” that as victims wept and told their stories of suffering during a court hearing, a shackled and seated April Parks kept her head turned and never looked their way.

Karen Kelly, Clark County’s public guardian, read through a long list of names of seniors who were victimized and lived under “intense anxiety and anguish” for the final years of their lives because of Parks and those who worked closely with her. Parks’ business partner, Mark Simmons, and her husband, Gary Neal Taylor, also were ordered to serve time in prison. The judge also ordered the three defendants to pay more than $500,000 to their victims. Parks, 53, pleaded guilty last year to exploitation, theft and perjury charges.

One woman, Barbara Ann Neely, said Parks separated her from family and friends, saying, “She was not a guardian to me.”

Neely said. “She did not protect me. As each day passed, I felt like I was in a grave, buried alive.”

Another victim compared Parks to Hitler.

The 53-year-old Parks told the judge that she accepted responsibility “but never intended harm,” adding that “things could have been done better. … We were a group practice, and honestly, I think some things got ahead of us.”

She claimed that she had a “great passion” for guardianship and took “great care and concern” in her work.

Parks was one of the most active private professional guardians in Nevada, and she frequently acted as the surrogate decision-maker for as many as 50 to 100 elderly and mentally incapacitated people at a given time. As guardian, she had total control of their finances, estates and medical decisions.


Las Vegas Journal-Review (January 4, 2019) “Ex-Nevada guardian to serve up to 40 years behind bars”

How Can I Protect a Loved One From Elder Abuse?

The (Lorain OH) Morning Journal’s recent article, “How to protect elder loved ones from abuse,” reports that the National Center on Elder Abuse says the 2010 census showed the largest number and proportion of people are 65 years old and older in the U.S. population with 40.3 million people, or about 13% of the population. By 2050, that number is expected to more than double to 83.7 million.

A 2010 national study found that financial abuse is the most commonly reported form of elder abuse followed by potential neglect, emotional mistreatment, physical mistreatment, and sexual mistreatment. With financial abuse and neglect, the courts often must get involved to limit the damage and try to get the elderly person the help they need.

When looking for elder abuse in family or friends, look for changes in their circumstances. A neighbor may become more isolated or is making decisions that are potentially harmful to themselves. There’s also self-neglect, where a senior isn’t taking good care of themselves. “New people” in their lives may also be a risk. They may want to assume control over the senior’s person’s life and exclude other people who have had longstanding relationships with the person.

Financial exploitation can take many different forms. Isolation is a critical component of financial exploitation. If a senior is isolated from the people who’ve helped them make financial decisions in the past, and then a new person comes along, that individual may try to make financial decisions for their own gain.

If you think a loved one or neighbor is suffering from elder abuse, start by just talking to them. Talk to them about some of the changes you’ve seen.

Some people are required by law to report elder abuse, and that list has recently expanded to include chiropractors, dentists, ambulance drivers, coroners and member of the clergy, among many others.

A judge can freeze a bank account and suspend powers of attorney. She can also order evaluations and require that Medicaid and Medicare applications be made for the adult. A judge can continue her orders up to six months and appoint guardians.

The best way to keep loved ones safe from this kind of elder abuse is to make sure that important legal documents like a will and powers of attorney are done while the person is still competent, and that people they trust are named to carry out those documents.


Reference: The (Lorain OH) Morning Journal (December 26, 2018) “How to protect elder loved ones from abuse”

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