Seven Behaviors that can Make You Vulnerable to Fraud

(Note: We found this article, printed in the May 2019 AARP Bulletin, to be very worthwhile–as well as a reflection of sad truth that we've seen far too many times.  A careful read might save you quite a bit of money and anguish.)

Does this sound like you?  If so, change your habits.

By Amy Nofziger and Mark Fetterhoff

What makes you prone to getting scammed?  It may be the personality traits that make you a good person.  Based on our research at the AARP Fraud Watch Network, here are some characteristics that make people vulnerable to fraud:

1. You respect authority.  Many common scams are perpetrated by crooks impersonating a police officer, an IRS or Social Security agent, or a court representative.  Always remember this: Government offices rarely call citizens to conduct business—and they never demand quick payment.  If that’s what the caller wants, put aside your inclination to defer to authority figures.  Just hang up.

2. You like to please people.  One scam we’ve been seeing hits people at work and plays on your good nature.  An email from a boss or coworker asks you to buy some expensive gift cards and take photos of the front and back of the card to get reimbursed.  The email is actually from a scammer mimicking the real thing.  Once he has the numbers from the gift cards, he uses them before the fraud is caught.

3. You are cocky.  We often hear from victims, “I’ve never been defrauded.  I thought I was too smart.”  If you believe you are immune to being cheated, think again.  Scammers are professionals—and endlessly creative.

4. You slipped up once. Sadly, if you have already been scammed, chances are good the fraud calls will increase.  Thieves put your information on a “victim list” that gets sold to other scammers or criminal rings.

5. You’re friendly.  Many victims who call us met their scammer on social media via a friend request.  Try to limit social media contact to real friends and family, and turn down requests from people you don’t know.

6. You are under stress.  We also get lots of calls from people who were tricked into giving away personal info while dealing with an illness or another stressful event.  People who have recently lost a loved one are also vulnerable, especially if the obituary reveals details that a crook can use as bait.  Be especially vigilant during times of crisis.

7. You’re lonely.  The Fraud Watch Network has found that many scam victims report feeling lonely and isolated from family and friends.  That makes them susceptible to the fake friendliness of professional thieves.  If you feel lonely or isolated, AARP and AARP Foundation have programs to help you connect with people in your community.  Go to connect2affect.org.

Amy Nofziger and Mark Fetterhoff are consumer fraud experts with the AARP Fraud Watch Network. The original article, including links and discussion, can be found online at https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/vulnerable-to-fraud.html.

NO CONTEST: CAN AN “AIRTIGHT” & “UNCHALLENGEABLE” DOCUMENT BE DRAFTED?

We are often asked by clients to place specific wording in their estate planning documents in order to create “no-contest” (or In Terrorem) clauses.  Simply put, many people would like to ensure that nothing they have decided upon in their Will or Trust can be challenged. No-contest clauses are typically added in order to create legal barriers for anyone who could attempt to receive a more favorable outcome than specified in the original intent of the Will or Trust, along with the added threat that the persons disputing the Will or Trust receive no inheritance as a result of their challenges.  In a nutshell, such a clause might state that if John Doe challenges the Will and its validity, he loses whatever inheritance would have been his had he not raised his objection.

In truth, clauses like this are not always enforced. In Arizona, the challenger is disinherited or penalized only if the challenger’s claim lacks “probable cause” or a valid legal reason to dispute the Will or Trust.  This means that one who challenges the contents of a Will or Trust will not be disinherited if a court decides that there really was a probable cause, or validity, for that challenge.

Two statutory provisions in Arizona deal specifically with these “no-contest” clauses.  According to A.R.S. § 14-2517,

A provision in a Will purporting to penalize an interested person for contesting the Will or instituting other proceedings or actions relating to the estate is unenforceable if probable cause exists for the contest, proceedings, or actions,

and A.R.S. § 14-10113 adds,

A provision in a Trust instrument that purports to penalize an interested person for contesting the Trust instrument or instituting other proceedings or actions relating to the Trust property is unenforceable if probable cause exists for the contest, proceeding, or actions.

Obviously, an important element in this situation is the definition of probable cause.  The Arizona State Supreme Court has essentially defined probable cause as involving the existence of evidence—at the time the challenge is made—"which would lead a reasonable person” to conclude that a dispute of the Trust or Will in question would likely be successful.  The person raising the challenge should have evidence, not simply hurt feelings, anger, or a personal story—to lead them to that conclusion.

A person who challenges a Will or Trust on multiple grounds puts him- or herself on even “shakier ground,” so to speak.  In such a scenario, each and every claim when contesting must be determined to show probable cause.  For example, if a challenger states, while trying to make a stronger case, “five good reasons” why the directives of the Will should be changed, and the court finds that only four of these reasons demonstrate probable cause, the “no-contest” clause would then be triggered and enforced.

When using a “no-contest” clause to bolster the intent of a Will or Trust, one must consider whether or not probable cause might exist for an inheritor or disinherited person to raise a challenge.  Considerations must be given to medical diagnoses, medications being taken, exactly who initiated the estate planning, who has influence (and could that influence be considered undue), along with many other facts and potential scenarios. This discussion is vital to your estate planning and ensures that if such a challenge is raised, it has been considered and addressed in advance.  This can be achieved through careful preparation with a professional attorney who stands behind her work.

One consideration we often discuss with clients is that if a person is not actually a beneficiary, then he or she has nothing to lose by challenging and triggering a “no-contest” clause.  Sometimes consideration should be given to not completely disinheriting someone, but instead providing a nominal distribution sufficient to make the beneficiary seriously consider whether or not a challenge is worth giving up that distribution.

Working with a qualified estate planning attorney adds one more “arrow to your quiver” to ensure that your plan will be followed.  As a neutral party, your estate planning attorney will know how properly craft a professional document and make sure any of the concerning facts are addressed and probable causes for challenges are eliminated.

 

                 

FOUR CELEBRITIES WHO DIDN’T, AND ONE WHO DID

In a blog post and the Johnson & Associates Fall Newsletter last year, we addressed some of the problems occurring due to a lack of estate planning on the part of celebrities who had passed away. With millions of dollars at stake and years of litigation, the failure to plan ahead certainly was costly. Here are a few examples:

Pop star Prince, who passed away in April of 2016, left no estate planning documents. With no will or trust to guide the disposition of his estimated $200 million net worth, judges, banks, and lawyers have done most of the decision-making. As of 2018, legal fees had exceeded six million dollars, with another three million dollars in legal fees pending. At that time, Prince’s heirs (his six siblings, according to Minnesota law) had yet to see a penny of their inheritance.

Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, who died in August of 2018, had no will or trust to direct her estate. She left an estimated $80 million to be disposed of without the benefit of knowing her wishes in the matter. The processing of her estate, with multiple attorneys involved, has been moving slowly through the courts, with the new development that one of her former husbands has demanded a share of her fortune as well.

Famed Jamaican reggae star Bob Marley, whose estate was estimated to be valued near $30 million when he passed away in 1981, had no estate planning documents completed at the time of his death, leaving his wife and 11 children, among others, to fight over dollar amounts, royalties, commercial rights ownership, and a multitude of other estate issues. That legal battle continued for over 30 years.

Guitarist Jimi Hendrix, who died in 1970, had an estate that was estimated to be around $5 million when he passed away, but which is now worth closer to $175 million. Hendrix left no will, and his estate ended up in court disputes for decades. Lawsuits involving Hendrix’s father’s claims, stepsister, and most recently, his brother, have clogged the courts for nearly 50 years, with one claimant blocking or suing another over property, finances, branding, and so forth. The most recent lawsuits involving Hendrix’s estate were filed in 2018, 48 years after the guitarist’s untimely passing.

In contrast, many fans were unprepared for actor Luke Perry’s unexpected passing in early March, but Perry himself appears to have been prepared. His estimated $10 million estate was reportedly left to his two children, and according to interviews in recent years, the motivation for Perry’s estate planning was his 2015 cancer scare. At the time, Perry took the time to complete necessary estate planning because he “didn’t want to leave anything to chance.” Despite the fact that it took a bout with cancer to motivate the move, Perry’s decision to complete a will has left no question about his intentions, and has given his children the opportunity to move forward with their lives—rather than having to spend significant time and money in court. Another benefit of Perry’s estate planning was the family’s ability to make the decision to take him off of life support. In California, the ability to make this decision generally comes through a Power of Attorney or Advance Directive, thus avoiding the publicity, emotion, and time involved with Probate Court.

We’ve had many people say to us, “I know I really ought to have something in place. I just haven’t gotten around to it.” Indeed, an estimated 70% of Americans simply haven’t gotten around to it. The question, then, is what kind of legacy one wishes to leave. Drama, family fights, courtroom struggles, attorneys’ fees, and years of litigation are easy to avoid. A professional estate planning attorney can help you ensure that your wishes are indeed carried out. Contrasted with other celebrities, Luke Perry’s example certainly makes this clear. If you, your friends, or your loved ones are in the position of not having “gotten around to it,” now may be the time. Proper estate planning offers a foolproof method of not being remembered with descriptions such as “costly,” “lawsuits,” “attorney’s fees,” and “fights.”

ADDING LOVE TO YOUR ESTATE PLAN

Working with a professional attorney to craft a Will or Trust is a great way to ensure that one’s final wishes and intents are carried out. Typically, these documents reference beneficiaries, possessions, finances, or charities. Very seldom is LOVE mentioned in a Will or Trust.  

One might think that the actions or decisions set forth in a Will or Trust would be sufficient to express love, but putting one’s feelings in writing can create a beautiful and lasting treasure and a reminder of what was carried in the heart of the writer. Such letters, stored with a Will, a Trust, or in another easily found location, can become keepsakes for friends, family members, and loved ones. In writing such a letter, one might consider expressing positive feelings that might have been previously difficult to share (or were seldom shared).  

A good friends-and-family letter can include many heartfelt sentiments. One could express pride in a person’s accomplishments. One might acknowledge the importance, significance, or impact a person has had in the life of the letter writer. Memorable experiences together, such as trips, shared activities, or special events, could be referenced for their meaning and the joy they brought. Even if you have previously expressed fond recollections of these experiences, spoken words can often become lost to time and memory. Written, they can be held, reread, and cherished for years to come.

Another idea for such a letter is to offer forgiveness for a loved one who may have hurt you in the past. If you are able to extend such a gift, it can be cathartic for both the giver and the receiver. A letter of forgiveness offers the chance to mend something that has been broken and to allow for healing. If this idea seems impossible, then the best option is to remain quiet. A last letter from you should make a mark of responsibility and maturity, leaving a legacy of love and reconciliation rather than parting shots or spite.

One more potential idea for your letter of love is to pour out thanks to those who are deserving or have impacted your life in positive ways. Such a letter is your chance to express gratitude to friends and family members to a depth and degree that may have been difficult to do in person. In this letter, you can express the feelings of your heart while touching lives in the process. In doing so, you can return a measure of the love and care that you have received as you say farewell.

For assistance in creating such letters, the Stanford Medicine “Dear Friends and Family” Letter Project has a template and sample letters, and offers suggestions on what to include. These can be found on The Stanford Medicine Letter Project website: http://www.med.stanford.edu/letter/friendsandfamily

 

The Veterans Affairs MISSION ACT of 2018

Johnson & Associates recently received exciting news about what the Department of Veterans Affairs "Mission Act of 2018" can do for all qualified veterans.  Some of the funding in the Mission Act will actually be used to allow veterans to have full coverage at hospitals other than the VA hospital, and will cover the cost in full as long as they were transported to that hospital by ambulance.  This is a win-win situation for all because the VA is limited in the scope of their treatment, frequently lies a great distance from the veterans, and often can't service all of their clientele.  The Mission Act of 2018 allows for the veteran to be treated at the closest hospital as long as it is an emergency and the VA has funding to pay the costs.  It also reduces the cost of the ambulance ride.  

Again, this is very exciting news for veterans, their families, and the professionals who work with them.  More details are available through the following link to Veterans Administration frequently asked questions:

https://www.va.gov/oei/docs/MISSION_Act_2018_FAQs.pdf

 

 

 

 

Avoid Family Feuds With Good Estate Planning Hygiene

A recent visit to the dentist highlighted an important point to me: improper estate planning can have dire consequences for a family.  As she cleaned my teeth, my dental hygienist asked me what type of law Johnson & Associates had as its focus.  Once I referenced elder and estate law, her storytelling immediately began.  “Oh!” she exclaimed.  “I bet many people don’t realize what can happen if things aren’t properly set up.  We had a serious issue in my family.”

I made some sort of assenting sound as she continued to clean my teeth. 

“When she was alive, my grandmother did her estate planning documents and made my mom her executor,” the hygienist explained.  “We thought everything was fine and we didn’t bother to check.  Unbeknownst to us, my grandmother had made my aunt a ‘joint owner’ on her bank accounts, thinking that it would be good to have her daughter help her pay bills and expenses.” 

Apparently the grandmother didn’t realize that once she passed away, all of the monetary assets would immediately become sole property of the joint owner—not a part of the estate to be equally divided amongst her other children and beneficiaries.  Upon the grandmother’s passing, the joint owner daughter immediately cleaned out the accounts, claiming every last penny and causing quite a rift in the family.  My hygienist emphatically noted that “mother never spoke to her sister again.”   The hygienist herself decided to forgive her aunt, explaining that “life’s too short to hold on to anger,” although her own mother recently passed away without ever reconciling. 

Sadly, the situation which caused grief, anger, and feelings of betrayal for many members of this family is not uncommon.

With proper estate planning advice, the financial assets would have been distributed the way the grandmother had intended, and her family members could have remained on much more positive terms—leaving one less painful story for a dental hygienist to relate.

A Tribute to George H. W. Bush From His Son

Regardless of your political beliefs or leanings, we found this to be a timely and poignant message about love, life, and families.  It was published in the January/February 2019 AARP Bulletin:

A Tribute to George H. W. Bush From His Son

In December 2014, George W. Bush sat down with the AARP Bulletin and talked about his dad.  With the passing of George H. W. Bush late last year, his son’s words provide a warm look at a father’s wisdom.

On important lessons his father taught:

That unconditional love is liberating.  That life is to be lived to the fullest.  That defeat does not prevent victory.

On why he didn’t ask for advice while he was president:

Well, first of all, the best balm to the job is love, to hear his voice say, “Son, I love you.  I know what you’re going through.  Hang in there.  You’re doing a fine job.”

On visiting him in the hospital in 2012:

I told the girls we were going to stop by, but I don’t want Dad to see us weeping.  We weep a lot in our family.  And so we go in the ICU and Jenna and Barbara are rubbing his head, and he leans over and rubs Jenna’s stomach and says something along the lines of, “There is death and then there is the beauty of life.”  And Jenna was pregnant at the time, noticeably pregnant, and we wept.  It was a very sweet moment.

On coping with death and learning from setbacks:

You’re going to have setbacks.  The question is, how do they affect you?  In Dad’s case, it seemed to me that they made him stronger, more sympathetic, kinder.  I find it incredibly insightful that after the ’92 election, which stunned Dad a lot, he became very close to the man who beat him.  He was gracious and willing to reach out to Bill Clinton.  It’s an inspiring example of humility.

Preparing for Non-Medical Home Health Care Options, by Regina Ralston, M.Ed.

One of the issues facing caregivers is how to be open to asking for help when you need it.  That help can come in the form of family, friends, neighbors, professionals, and others.  Have you ever considered non-medical home health care options?  You and your loved ones can be greatly benefited by having a person come into your home to assist you with meals, laundry, bathing, or just being a companion.  But how do you choose a home health aide?  You have to pay attention when you are interviewing home care agencies and individuals.  Be aware that professional home care companies should be insuring their employees who come into your home.  Be sure to include this as one of your interview questions: is the person coming into your home covered by the company’s insurance?  Once that has been established, there are other questions you might consider asking.  Here is a small list:
          1.  How does the home care company find their employees and what are their hiring criteria?
          2.  Does the company do background checks and/or drug screening?
          3.  Are the aides certified in CPR or other health training?  You especially want to know if the health aide understands how to deal with Alzheimer’s or Parkinson’s if that is what your loved one has.
          4.  Can the aide help with lifting and transfers if necessary?  Can they help with bathing, dressing and toileting? 
          5.  How is the aide assessed by the company?
          6.  What happens when the regularly assigned aide cannot come to work on a particular day?
          7.  What happens if you are not satisfied with the care the aide is giving your loved one?  Can that aide be easily replaced?
          8.  How does the agency evaluate the quality of the home care the aide is giving?
          9.  Is there a supervisor assigned to an aide, and how is the aide supervised?
          I am sure you can come up with more questions.  Write them down and be sure to ask them of the agency when you are interviewing to see which agency suits your needs best.  Do your homework, and that will greatly assist you in your decision making.  Consider extra help over the holidays when there can be more events and even stressors for you. 


Please have a happy holiday season and enjoy these special days!

 

This article was written by Regina Ralston, M.Ed., from About Seniors Eldercare Placement Consultants, and is adapted and reposted here by permission.

 

Research Study in U.K. Finds Hearing Aids Slow Dementia by 75%

Wearing a hearing aid can slow the progress of dementia by up to 75 percent, according to a new study. Scientists believe that keeping older people engaged and active by adopting the devices can significantly reduce age-related cognitive decline.

A team of researchers followed the progress of 2,040 individuals between 1996 and 2014, asking them to complete word memory tests at various stages and monitoring the rate of decline before and after getting a hearing aid.

The research team found that while the aids did not halt or reverse cognitive decline, they slowed it down by 75%; meanwhile, in a separate group of 2,068 who underwent cataract surgery, decline slowed by around half. The team at the University of Manchester said the strength of the association between hearing aids, cataract surgery, and mental deterioration meant policy makers should consider hearing and sight loss screening for all older adults.

Dr. Piers Dawes said, "These studies underline just how important it is to overcome the barriers which deny people from accessing hearing and visual aids. It's not really certain why hearing and visual problems have an impact on cognitive decline, but I'd guess that isolation, stigma, and the resultant lack of physical activity that are linked to hearing and vision problems might have something to do with it. And there are barriers to overcome; people might not want to wear hearing aids because of stigma attached to wearing them, or they feel the amplification is not good enough or they're not comfortable.”


The new research was published in PLOS ONE and the Journal of the American Geriatrics Society.

(Article adapted/originally published by Henry Bodkin, Oct. 11, 2018, The Telegraph).

 

The Impact of Arizona Senate Bill 1204

Arizona statutes govern the transference of property from a deceased person to beneficiaries. Despite many similarities to this process in other states, Arizona has added its own nuances, and Arizona’s recently passed Senate Bill 1204 (Arizona 53rd Legislature, 2nd Regular Session), became effective on August 3, 2018.  The passage of this bill added some key revisions which impact the Arizona Probate and Trust Codes.

One significant Probate element which did not change was the rule that upon “issuance of a statement of informal probate, the applicant must within 30 days give written information to all heirs and devisees of the admission of the will to probate, together with a copy of the will” (ARS § 14-1304).  Further, an heir or devisee has “four months from the receipt of the information” to commence a formal testacy proceeding or to contest probate.

A few notable changes will have an impact on petitioner notice, no-contest clauses, and reporting by trustees.

Petitioner Notice:

Petitioner shall give notice by publication at least three times prior to hearing date in a newspaper having general circulation in the county of hearing, with the first publication occurring at least 14 days before scheduled hearing (ARS § 14-1401).

Prior to this change, the requirement called for one notice by publication.  Failure to publish in the proper amount and time frame will result in the delay of the hearing, until appropriate notice has been given.

No-Contest Clauses:

SB 1204 has added a section to Arizona Trust Code 14-10113 that makes no-contest clauses “unenforceable if probable cause exists for the contest, proceedings, or actions” brought by a petitioner.  This opens the door for a petitioner to contest a will or trust without penalty as long as there is probable cause.

Trustee Reporting Requirements:

Some of the phrasing in SB 1204 clarifies who is entitled to receive a trustee’s report. Not everyone who receives some form of distribution from a trust is considered a “qualified beneficiary” (ARS § 14-10813), and thus not everyone who receives some form of distribution is entitled to a report.

Furthermore, “A person may not [emphasis added] require the trustee to furnish copies of excerpts from the trust that contain dispositive terms of the trust or provisions on named successor trustees…” without providing a “verified” and “reasonable basis for the request” (ARS § 14-11013), That is to say, a trustee is not obligated to respond to a request to provide a copy of any part of a trust that outlines what, how, or to whom the distributions of that trust will be made, unless that person offers a “verified” and “reasonable” motive for the request.

Most of the changes enacted through SB 1204 will have little impact upon the average will or trust administration, but it’s still a good thing for you (and your attorney) to be fully informed in order to make the process as smooth and inexpensive as possible.