The Hidden Truth About Adult Protective Services
In all the proposed rules by Finra and the SEC to address financial exploitation of seniors, advisors are urged to report suspected abuse to the local Adult Protective Services or to call the police. Unfortunately that is not always a solution.
There seems to be a lack of clarity about how things work. Here’s a typical scenario that illustrates an issue.
Myra is 87 and her daughter, Lexie has been taking advantage of her for years. Myra feels sorry for her daughter because she can’t seem to hold a job. Never mind she has a drug habit. Myra has means and she often gives Lexie “loans” that are never repaid.
Lexie gets a power of attorney from Myra, goes with Myra to her financial advisor and tells the advisor that Myra needs $80,000 for a trip they are going to take. Myra is disabled and never travels. The advisor knows this. Advisor decides after seeing several of these demands for withdrawing Myra’s funds under suspicious circumstances that Lexie is abusing Myra. The total amount withdrawn at Myra’s request is over $150,000 in six months, which is highly unusual.
Advisor calls the police. They refer her to Adult Protective Services. APS takes a report over the phone, asks questions and then asks Advisor to fill out a report form. She fills it out and reports the recent questionable $80K demand and withdrawal and she lists the total taken of $150K. She puts Lexie’s name on it as the person suspected of financially abusing Myra.
APS sends a social worker out to investigate the complaint and to visit Myra at home. Myra finds the worker to be very nice and they chat. “Has your daughter ever pressured you to give her money?” the worker asks. “No”, says Myra. “Do you remember giving her gifts or loans totaling $150K this year?” the worker asks. “I don’t think I did that” Myra says. The worker asks if she is in the habit of giving money gifts to Lexie and Myra says yes, that Lexie is her daughter and she needs some help sometimes. The worker concludes that giving money to Lexie is what Myra wants and the case does not go any further. No one has tested Myra to see if she is competent to understand the consequences of giving her assets to Lexie, particularly since she has two other adult children.
In this case the facts are not clear enough to prove that a crime was committed. APS will not recommend that Lexie be prosecuted because even though giving away money is not in Myra’s best interests, she is assumed to be competent to do so. In this case APS is not solving any problem and takes no further action. If Myra did not want the funds to be given to Lexie it would be different and elder abuse could be proven perhaps. As is there is too much doubt about Myra agreeing to be taken advantage of by Lexie, no prosecutor could meet its burden of proof.
The Other Option
Lexie’s other two siblings were not initially aware of the abuse by Lexie. Their potential inheritance is directly affected by their sister’s actions and when they find out they call APS also. The case is closed and they get nowhere. They are furious.
They consider another option. If there is no crime here that can be proven, there may be a civil case. They contact an attorney who handles civil cases of elder financial abuse. The attorney does an investigation and finds out that Lexie has bought a condo with the money taken from Myra. The attorney successfully proves that Myra was duped by Lexie and the matter is settled by Lexie’s attorney agreeing to sell the condo and give the proceeds back to a fund set up for Myra in case she needs more cash as she ages. And the settlement agreement says that Lexie will inherit no part of the fund. Further, the power of attorney Lexie got is torn up and Myra appoints a more responsible agent, another daughter who now oversees all of Myra’s finances.
With a misunderstanding of how law enforcement works, there is a belief that all one must do is report to APS and somehow, financial abuse will be stopped. But when APS finds insufficient proof, or a wiling victim like Myra, they do not intervene. They are essentially an arm of law enforcement. A civil case is outside their sphere and a civil attorney must be consulted to explore whether one can pursue that possible way of recovering an elder’s assets that have been wrongfully taken.
The important thing to know here is that APS is limited in what it can do. A criminal case of any kind has to be proven “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Any advisor who wants to keep senior clients safer needs to understand that a willing victim will pretty well destroy a criminal case of abuse. A civil case is a possibility as long as there is an asset (in Lexie’s case, a condo) to get. One should know a competent elder abuse attorney to consult and find out if your client has that choice in taking legal action of if her heirs do.
I Have A Brand And It Haunts Me
I was talking to my pal “Jonas” who recently decided to freelance (vs building a multi-consultant business) when he left a bigger firm to do his own thing.
Jonas is a global talent guy who works across the planet for some of the world’s most well known companies. He decided his best play—the one that would allow him to focus on what he loves most and live the life he’s planned—is to freelance for other firms.
His plan got off to a bit of a rocky start because—get this—none of the firms he approached believed he’d actually want to “just” freelance. He’d earned his rep by steadily building deep, brand name client relationships, practices and business, not by going off by himself as a solo.
Or as he put it “I have a brand and it haunts me.”
We both had a good belly laugh because he was already rolling in new projects, thrilled with his choice to freelance.
And yet, isn’t that the truth?
Good, bad, indifferent—our brands DO haunt us.
They whisper messages to those in our circle “trust him, he’s the bomb”, “hire her for anything creative as long as your deadline isn’t critical”, “steer clear—he talks a good game but doesn’t deliver”.
And thanks to social media, those messages—good and bad—can accelerate faster than you can imagine. One client, one reader, one buyer can be the pivot point that takes your consulting business to new territory.
So how do you deal with it?
Yep—you go for more of what comes naturally. In Jonas’ case, he stuck with what he’s known for—his work, his relationships, his track record for integrity—and won over any lingering skepticism about his move.
We weather the bumps in the road by staying true to who we are at our core.
So when a potential client says “Sorry, you’re just too expensive for me”, you don’t run out and change your prices. Instead, you listen carefully and realize they aren’t the right fit for your particular brand of expertise and service.
When a social media troll chooses you to lash out at, you ignore them and stay with your true audience—your sweet-spot clients and buyers.
And when your most challenging client tells you it’s time to change your business model to serve them better, you listen closely (there may be some learning here) and—if it doesn’t suit your strengths—you kiss them good-bye.
If your brand isn’t haunting you, is it really much of a brand?
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