Choosing Advisors Wisely––Lori A. Leu

Choosing Advisors Wisely

By Lori A. Leu & Erin W. Peirce, Collin County LIVING WELL Magazines

It is an unfortunate reality that there are many people out there ready to profit from and prey on vulnerable individuals. The elderly have always been a prime target for those looking to exploit someone for financial gain, and the numbers are on the rise. According to one report, Texas has one of the highest numbers of elder abuse cases each year, along with California, Florida, New York, and Pennsylvania. One of the most unreported forms of elder abuse is financial exploitation.

Sometimes the perpetrator claims to be a “professional” providing a “service.” Professional service providers pose a unique threat to the elderly, because many of the services offered are legitimate and needed, such as investments, insurance products, and financial or legal advice. The key is determining who is truly qualified and providing the service with honesty and integrity. Choosing an unqualified person or someone with illicit motives creates the risk of financial loss or other disastrous outcomes for the elderly person involved. Here are some important indicators to put your advisors to the test:

References: Can the professional service provider give you names and phone numbers of satisfied clients who will provide a reference? If they don’t have several clients willing to give a positive reference, they may not have the experience or integrity to handle your issues. For attorneys, you can also check with the State Bar of Texas to ensure that the attorney is licensed and in good standing with the Bar.

Personal Attention: Investments, insurance, and legal documents all require a qualified professional to prepare and review with you, to ensure your unique circumstances are considered. Never give your information to someone you have not consulted in person, preferably at their office. Also, ask if anyone outside of their business will be handling any of your needs. Some providers may subcontract legal issues to an attorney, and you should be aware of everyone who may access your file. To the extent legal services are provided, you should always insist on meeting with the attorney. There are no boilerplate answers for elder law issues. Elder law attorneys should spend time with you to determine the best way to resolve your particular issues.

Criminal conduct: Be careful of working with people who claim to offer assistance, but are committing criminal violations in the process. For example, anyone other than an elder law attorney who offers assistance in obtaining Medicaid eligibility is committing an offense that is considered a Class A misdemeanor under Section 12.001 of the Texas Human Resources Code. The violators include people who are known as “Medicaid specialists,” financial advisors, nursing home caseworkers, and anyone who claims to be “registered” or “certified” or anything other than licensed to practice law in the state of Texas.  Some of these offenders attempt to avoid the criminal violation by “affiliating” with an attorney, which typically means just placing the attorney’s name on the documents. However, this does not resolve the criminal offense. Instead, it shows an understanding of the violation of Texas law. For Medicaid eligibility, make sure you are working with an elder law attorney who is qualified and involved, not merely lending his or her name.

Compensation: Make sure you know the full range of compensation to be received by the service provider. Rarely does anyone provide professional advice or assistance for free. If they offer something to you for free, find out how they are really getting paid. In particular, if the transaction involves the purchase of annuities, find out who is receiving a commission and the amount they are receiving. Annuities are often not the right option, but are pushed strongly by someone who is receiving a commission.

Complexity: Financial and legal matters are complex and require specific detail.  Anyone who offers you a “quick fix” or a “one size fits all” solution is probably not meeting your needs. Be wary of anything that seems too simple or too good to be true––it probably is.

Lori A. Leu and Erin W. Peirce are Elder Law attorneys with Lori A. Leu & Associates in Plano, Texas. They help clients sort through Elder Law issues every day and can be reached at 972-996-2540.

Lori A. Leu and Erin W. Peirce are Elder Law attorneys with Lori A. Leu & Associates in the North Dallas area. They help clients sort through Elder Law issues every day and can be reached at 972-996-2540.