One of my elder clients (we’ll call her Mary) called about two weeks ago. She had received a call from a caseworker at Springwell, one of the network of regional entities charged by the Commonwealth’s Office of Elder Services with investigating abuse complaints. Mary’s husband had died recently. The staff person at Springwell told Mary there had been a report that Mary was not fully competent as a result of her husband’s death and that one of her daughters and her late husband’s son by a prior marriage were taking advantage of the situation by taking money from her. The staff person said she was investigating and wanted to verify that nothing had been taken, and asked for Mary’s bank statements to verify that everything was on the up and up. Mary said she would not release anything to the staff person and then Mary called me. I spoke to the caseworker, who asked how long I had been dealing with Mary and asked that I meet with her alone to get a sense of the situation.
A few days later I went to Mary’s house and met with her. She was fine. She was more than fine. She was indignant because, she said, she suspected that the call to Springwell had come from a granddaughter living on the West Coast who was concerned about making sure that Mary, who is a spring chicken herself, would change her estate plan to include the stepson. Since it just so happened that I had just gotten a letter from the granddaughter’s “lawyer” (and boyfriend) asking for all the documents regarding Mary’s husband’s estate, I was able to verify Mary’s suspicion about the source of the “abuse” complaint. I spoke to the caseworker at Springwell and am now documenting that, in fact, no money has been stolen, so she can close the case.
The point of this story is that, while Mary’s initial reaction was irritation that the person from Springwell was “butting in” regarding this intimate family dynamic, the good news is that there really is a state-funded network of folks whose job is to make sure no one takes advantage of Mary, or you, or any senior, and that if you know of a senior who may be being taken advantage of, sometimes by strangers but more likely, in my experience, by “friends” or relatives, there is someplace you can call. These folks have the experience to get to the bottom of these things, as they did in Mary’s case. The Commonwealth’s Elder Abuse Hotline number is 800-922-2275. Do a friend (or relative) a favor. If you see something, say something.
If you need more information on this, you can contact me at (508) 860-1470 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also view my 10-minute Q&A Fireside Chats on Frank and Mary’s YouTube Channel, http://www.youtube.com/elderlawfrankmary and find more in-depth commentary on legal issues on Mirick O’Connell’s Trusts and Estates blog, “Getting All Your ‘Docs’ in a Row.”