A recent Central Texas newspaper article touted Georgetown, Texas, as number two on the CNNmoney.com Fortune Small Business list of “100 best places to live and launch.” This ranking identified towns having the “best mix of business advantages and lifestyle appeal.” Living and launching sound like positive activities. Launching, however, may also lead to looting – a not nearly so pleasant experience.
Looting assets of the dead and disabled is a focus of the Estate of Denial web site(http://www.estateofdenial.com/).
An Involuntary Redistribution of Assets (IRA) occurs when property is distributed via a trust, will and/or guardianship in a manner contrary to the intended wishes of the asset owner. It can happen during the person’s lifetime or posthumously. Family members, friends or even “trusted” associates like a lawyer, accountant, social worker or caregiver are potential IRA practitioners. With legal and financial maneuvering, IRA can be accomplished totally within limits of the law. Georgetown is home to Del Webb’s Sun City Texas. IRA actions are occurring across the country, but towns like Georgetown – with a significant retirement-age population – are particularly at risk.
A designation like the “best place to live and launch” energizes everyone from municipal governments to local Chambers of Commerce to economic development folks. This distinction provides new bragging rights when local realtors and business recruitment forces set out to promote their city. Communities celebrate as new companies open, flourish and create jobs that stimulate new housing plus needs for additional businesses or services. This increases the tax base and the opportunity to grow government (not viewed by all as a good thing). A great city creating great opportunity. It’s all just - great! Or is it?
Either forgotten or ignored is that the factors attracting positive commercial interests can also be appealing to unscrupulous businesses looking for locations housing specific, significant population segments. Towns with military installations are great examples of areas that attract economic activity that is predatory in its relationship with residents. Exploitive environments can also exist within factory or mining towns and even resort or medical communities.
The Georgetown story provides an opportunity to remind and/or educate older Americans regarding their vulnerability when it comes to predatory businesses. Whether called senior citizens, the elderly, retirees, it doesn’t matter. Nor is there an exact age for becoming a part of this group. The point is that older, often retired, relatively affluent Americans are being targeted by economic poachers of all types, especially those in legal and financial professions. Lawyers who exclusively prey on the elderly are known as “Walker Stalkers.” Wealth is relative with IRA practitioners often indiscriminate as to the financial amounts they seek. Opportunity can sometimes be as much an attraction as a high dollar pay-off.
According to the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services, financial abuse is one of the most sinister forms of abuse against the elderly and adults with disabilities. It is often called the crime of the 21st century. It can be as simple as taking money from a wallet, removing valuable possessions from a home, or as complex as manipulating an adult into turning over property to an unscrupulous family member or caregiver (http://www.dfps.state.tx.us/About/News/2006/2006-10-04_FinancialAbuse.asp).
U.S. Census Bureau data indicates that adults 50+ own more than 75% of the nation's financial wealth (http://www.suddenlysenior.com/seniorfacts.html).
With the aging Baby Boomers, conditions are ripe for increasing numbers of IRA cases. Law enforcement and the courts provide minimal safeguard or justice. Local authorities often refrain from criminal prosecutions and instead defer IRA adjudications to civil courts. Court battles are the traditional “remedy” for such actions. But win or lose, massive financial expense as well as a stringent emotional toll can yield the only true “winners” in these cases to be the participating lawyers.
Many people cannot afford to take action as our courts are a pay-to-play venue. Others recognize that even with a meritorious case, many IRA actions involve a lawyer as a primary or secondary perpetrator and judges (usually former lawyers) are not known for taking substantive action against “their own kind.” With increased exposure, the need for criminal prosecutions will hopefully become self evident and communities will take action to protect their residents. Meanwhile, the current unlikeliness of criminal charges will continue as a contributing factor to increasing IRA case numbers. The prospect of a few years behind bars might one day make poaching Uncle Joe’s nest egg less appealing, but we are not there yet.
The upcoming years will see a transfer of wealth prompting many new IRA cases. People think proper estate planning will protect them or that they don’t have enough assets to be a target. There is no inoculation from the threat of IRA. Entrusting the execution of your wishes to an individual who is respectful of your wishes is key, but thwarting of this effort occurs as IRA practitioners are often shameless masters of deception. Exposing this problem – shining light on the dark side of estate management – can be a simple yet effective solution. Forewarned is forearmed so the next important step is to spread the word. Money, disability and death are topics regularly avoided. That has to change. Be aware of what’s happening in your community.
Let Walker Stalkers and other IRA practitioners know that property rights are expected to be respected and that your town, like Georgetown, can be a great place to live and launch, but looting will not be allowed! Lou Ann Anderson is producer of The Lynn Woolley Show, a Texas-based talk radio program. She also is an advocate working to create awareness regarding the Texas probate system and its surrounding culture.
Lou Ann may be contacted at: firstname.lastname@example.org