You and the Law: Becky with the bad offer on a student loan

In addition to all the other issues which revolve around getting older, a significant percentage of America’s aging population have more things to deal with, as the following email from Central California reader “Annie” describes:

“Paul, my husband, is 86 and I am 74. “Becky” our granddaughter has asked us to co-sign her student loan, but we don’t know the amount or repayment terms. In September she will begin her first year at a state college, but we don’t know where or what she plans to study.

“We are getting pressure to sign from her mother — our daughter — but are worried. What are your thoughts on the subject?”

All the signs of financial elder abuse

When we receive this type of a request — especially when from elderly readers — three words immediately come into mind: Financial elder abuse. “Call them immediately” are the next three announced to my staff. You would be surprised at how often we have to reply, “Please send us your telephone number! Don’t do anything until we talk!”

Fortunately, Annie’s mail contained information enabling us to find their number. Within minutes the cast of characters in a recurring drama played out daily across America began to assemble, starring roles going to financially irresponsible, daughter and, following mom’s example, granddaughter.

“Mom’s credit is poor and can’t be a co-signer so you have to!”

“Becky, and her mom phoned us,” Annie explained, “and said the student loan she is applying for needed a credit-worthy co-signer. But since “June,” our daughter, and her husband had filed for bankruptcy, they do not qualify. The message was clear: If we love Becky, then there should be no question. We must co-sign immediately.”

Annie revealed that June and her husband receive a large, monthly disability retirement check from working in the prison system but are not terribly responsible when it comes to paying bills, yet they drive expensive, new cars.

“Their attitude is that we owe it to Becky, and I do not think that is correct,” Paul added.

“All we own is our house, modest savings, and receive Social Security. We do not want to wind up on the street just to prove that we love our granddaughter,” a very tough Annie added.

I felt confident these grandparents could stand up to the daughter’s pressure, but told them “If things get too hot, please call me. I’ll get your manipulative duo on the phone and tell them to back off.”

‘I want my inheritance early’

“Lawyers often see situations just like this. It’s a variety of the ‘If you really loved me, then you would buy me that sports car,’ pressure put on parents by manipulative, still living-at home, adult children, Hanford-based attorney Ron Jones observed when we read him Annie’s email.

Jones sees real threats to the financial security elderly Americans have worked hard to establish, “Coming from those closest to them, a son or daughter who want their inheritance today. They often have a plan that involves mom’s or dad’s attorney, and it’s something your readers need to be aware of,” he notes.

In The Godfather, there’s a line “A lawyer with a briefcase can steal more than a man with a gun.” As you’ll see, when it comes to stealing from mom and dad, plotting children will attempt to use a lawyer in their plan to obtain an early inheritance, in part, unwittingly helped by soon-to-become victims who think they are doing the right thing.

‘Let’s revise your old documents’

“It’s safe to say that more than at any time in the past, older Americans are fully aware of the benefits in having an estate plan. This could be a will or trust, but always:

• An advanced health care directive/power of attorney for health care, and;

•A durable power for financial purposes in the event they become incapacitated and cannot handle their own affairs correctly.

“In the wrong hands, a power of attorney can render someone homeless, and this is no exaggeration,” he underscores.

“Generally, the durable power of attorney becomes operational when, for example, mom or dad has been diagnosed as impaired. Before that time the power of attorney has no legal effect, unless it has been prepared to give that authority at the time it is signed to become effective immediately, giving that son or daughter power over the checkbook and potentially everything else.

“It’s a sales pitch where unscrupulous adult children suggest the older documents need to be ‘revised,’ so they can ‘provide’ more help now. Help is the operative word — sometimes helping themselves to money and property.

“So, Dennis, I hope that if any of this sounds familiar to your readers, alarm bells should be sounding.”

Dennis Beaver practices law in Bakersfield and welcomes comments and questions from readers, which may be faxed to 661-323-7993, or emailed to Lagombeaver1@gmail.com. And be sure to visit dennisbeaver.com.

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