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Protecting against elder financial abuse

Buz Livingston
Buz Livingston

A Jimmy Buffett song few people know and even fewer musicians cover, “Caribbean Soul” alludes to Florida as a retirement haven. Ostensibly he was talking about his retirement, but he still tours and works hard; each show has a different set list. Florida retirement has a dark side which unfortunately will get worse. Affluent retirees can be targets of opportunity for scam artists and other forms of elderly financial abuse. Con men and women steal more than $30 billion annually from elderly victims around the United States and Florida, having a high percentage of seniors, is ground zero.

Earlier this year there was an unfortunate story about an octogenarian who had visited the Gulf Coast for decades but this time ended up getting bamboozled out of his life savings. Cases involving wealthy celebrities like the late Marvel Comics’ Stan Lee generate juicy headlines, but Mr. Lee has continuing royalty income and a huge pot. People with more modest nest eggs can't recover. Regardless of net worth, the embarrassment of being victimized can be devastating.

As we age, statistically, judgment declines but our confidence remains high. Ergo, the elderly are more vulnerable. With families scattered and lifelong friends relocated or dead, people get lonely; many get victimized by someone pretending to be their friend. With the financial collapse of 2008 still lingering and today’s low-interest rate environment hovering, some fall prey to rosy projections. The SEC recently shuttered a South Florida $3 million scam operation hawking “alternative investments.”

To help protect yourself, enlist four types of people for your financial life: attorney, trusted friend or family member, accountant, and financial planner. While one of these could take advantage financially, they likely won't get far with someone else hovering around. At our firm, we ask clients to complete a cognitive decline permission form where we can contact a trusted third party should we see a deviation consistent with cognitive decline.

Regardless of your age, simplifying your finances lowers the chances of financial abuse. Reduce the number of investment accounts you own. Have dividend checks sent electronically or swept to a brokerage account. Everyone should freeze their credit. Temporarily “thawing” my credit freeze took less than 30 minutes, only because I screwed up.

Annuities are much maligned, for multiple reasons. However, a single premium immediate annuity (SPIA) provides an income stream insulated from a huckster’s claws. Money managers, some masquerading as fiduciaries, don’t recommend SPIAs because purchasing one reduces their billing fees. Insurance agents don’t like them either since variable annuities, and indexed annuities pay higher commissions and trail fees.

Along with financial and legal professionals, keep a network of friends, preferably younger, as you age to notice changes in behavior or habits. It takes a village to raise a child and to look after the elderly, too.

You can’t always get what you want but Buz Livingston, CFP can help you figure out what you need. For specific advice, visit livingstonfinancial.net or drop by 2050 West County Highway 30A, M1 Suite 230.