Neglect and abuse. These are words that are on our minds these days, specifically elder financial abuse and neglect. More than ever before, we research and discover financial exploitation of the elderly. We are always hesitant to write too much about what we do, but after many discussions about how to protect the privacy of vulnerable individuals, we have decided to share a bit about what we see.
So, how many cases have we worked where there has been gross financial abuse? In the last 18 months, we have worked or are currently working 16 cases of financial exploitation of an elderly person. 16 cases too many. 16 cases where the majority of the time there is also a component of neglect. 16 cases that break our hearts.
The narrative has variations, but usually goes something along the lines of an elderly person becoming mentally incapacitated and landing in a higher level of acuity whether that be a hospital or nursing facility. We are either contacted by the social worker at the facility, the physician, or oftentimes by all of those people all at once. Once we do our research and establish a need for the person to be protected, we work closely with our attorney and file a petition with the court to become the individual’s temporary guardian and conservator. We always start with temporary which is a 90-day appointment to see if we can get things moving in the right direction. We are always hopeful.
Once we are the legally appointed guardian and conservator over the protected person, we can act on their behalf in all matters. We begin to retrieve their mail and if we haven’t already, we do a home visit. We set up a separate conservatorship bank account and move funds into that account. The forensic part of what we do is always fascinating to us and we treat it with the utmost respect. Chances are, if we are appointed, there is cause for concern and we order the last 12 months of bank statements so we can see how their funds have been spent (or not spent). We often say that just because you have family doesn’t mean you have the right family. We track down your long lost 3rd cousin on your mama’s side and we listen. We listen to everyone.
We have seen kids stealing their parent’s social security funds to support substance habits and shopping addictions, we have stopped others from bringing quit claim deeds to the hospital in hopes of getting the incapacitated person to sign over their property when they found out we were involved. We have moved people in the night to get them away from abusers and put in our share of 20-hour days. Our whole staff. At a moment’s notice. We will all go and do the work. The lifting and the hauling and the hand holding and the reassuring and the filing and the appearing and the loving and the tears and the hard conversations and the appointments and the rest. And the rest tomorrow and the next day after that and all of the days and all of the things.
We work closely with the police and sheriff’s departments all over the state to evict squatters who find out a house is vacant and move in. We have a very close relationship with the Dept. of Social Services and often tag team cases with them. We love our legal counsel and they love us and the work we do. They work their tails off for us and more importantly, for the clients we serve.
We have all thrown up together over a garbage can more than a few times working hoarder cases where the home was condemned, and we had to secure the property and develop a clean-up plan. It’s just a fact. Nothing dramatic. Get it over with and pick back up. It was actually after one of those sessions that Amy and I decided to share the business and partner officially. We have gone on more than a couple midnight calls to disable vehicles to keep people with no business on the road off of it. We have had to euthanize animals with no hope or chance in animal hoarder situations; holding them in our arms crying as if they were our very own delivering them over the rainbow bridge. We have held vigil at hospice, a nursing facility, a client’s home…wherever really so our clients aren’t alone at the end. We sincerely care about our clients and attempt to repair their broken family relationships and friendships if we can. We are not here to judge anyone or their journey, only to protect those who need it and give a space for those who need to tell us what they need to tell us….to heal, to move on, to engage or to be accountable.
We always say, “We don’t like conflict! We don’t like confrontation!” Yet, here we are…saying the words. With love. With empathy. With strength and conviction. Because, people deserve a voice when they can’t remember the words anymore. We help them with our voices. We all deserve someone to step up and say “Not on my watch.” We say every day, “How many more are there that we don’t know about?” All we can do is keep our heart open and keep answering the phone. The phone. The phone that rings and rings and rings. Someday, in a perfect world, we won’t have a job. Today isn’t that day, but maybe tomorrow. One things is for sure, we wouldn’t be able to do this work without a rock solid team. And we are. Rock solid. Sometimes, I feel like we share a military sort of bond that is radical and unified and mission driven. Built over many experiences that have tested and pushed us to our mental, emotional and physical limits. We always say “Never underestimate a group of girls who want to get something done.” Just try us.