Guess What! I’m Getting Married!

When you see a subject line like this one, you may have several different reactions. The first one that comes to mind is happiness for the couple who is planning to share their life together. The second may be shock or even suspicion, because it seemed to have come out of nowhere, or because the person getting married is a disabled or vulnerable elderly person.

A client of mine (who is the trustee of his disabled brother’s Special Needs Trust) recently received an email with a similar subject line. Below is the text of his email conversation with his disabled brother:
Disabled Brother: 
“I plan on getting married sometime this spring.  As a result, I plan on moving out of here sometime this spring.  I also plan on getting a car.  If you can make sure there is no problem transferring the money (both retirement pay as well as other monies which are owed me) there should be no problem.”
Client:
“Sounds great.  Congratulations.  Who is the lucky girl?  How did you meet her?  This is a little out of the blue.”
Disabled Brother:
“Her name is Mavis Oppong.  She is a blonde.  Her attitude is so open and makes me more open as well.  I met her online, and things just clicked from there.”
Client (in his email to me, suggesting we post this in our newsletter to warn others):
“Google “Mavis Oppong.”  Apparently a total scam.  I am told that he met her on Chemistry.com, whatever that is…”
Beware of the Marriage Scam

Do you have a loved one who is involved with a younger person and/or has announced he or she is getting married unexpectedly? At first sight, it’s hard not to think the younger spouse is in it for the money. Although true love does prevail in some cases, marrying for money can often be a scam is a form of elder abuse that is spreading throughout the United States. And, unfortunately, the anonymity of the internet makes it a perfect place for con artists to hide their real intentions while trying to entrap their victims under the guise of romantic interest.

So when it comes to your elderly or disabled loved ones, you have to be vigilant. These are some red flags that you and your loved one should look out for when he or she is embarking on online dating for the first time:

Red Flag #1: If someone is too interested – too quickly – in getting to know you beyond the safety of your computer, this could indicate a problem. If you have just met someone online and they are trying to encourage a meet-up before you really know them, they may not just be overly eager.

• Let your relationship take a slow and steady natural course of events and let your gut decide when it is right to call them.

• Remember that when you give out your number, unless it is an unlisted number, you are giving out your address as well. People can easily do a reverse look-up on a phone number and see where you live. Whether their purpose is dangerous or just desperate, you want to steer clear of both of these.

Red Flag #2: When you do finally decide to meet up, decide on a neutral and safe location (a restaurant or a café).  If you cannot arrange this, make sure you tell someone close to you about your plans. Write down any personal information that you have on your date also – such as an address or cell phone number, and the dating site you met them on – and give it to your friend or family member.
Then tell your date that you are doing this. Blame it on your overly-protective friend or family if you feel awkward about it.  If your date has any issue with this and gets angry or cancels your plans at the last minute, then this is a huge indicator that the person may not be legitimate.  If the person doesn’t respect your need to be cautious, then move on.
Red Flag #3: If anyone wants you to give them any personal information, be extremely guarded. Never give out banking information, details of how much your stock portfolio is worth, or the value of your home. And NEVER give money if it is asked for – even if they seem like a genuine person.  Scam artists are exceptionally good at seeming like really nice people who just happen to need a few hundred dollars for some emergency!
What you can do

Unfortunately, there is no federal regulation on elder abuse when it comes to marriage. This is a state-to-state issue that is mainly determined by the capacity of the individual at the time he or she entered the marriage.

Luckily, there are things you can do to help a loved one who you think could be the victim of a marriage scam or to help keep them from becoming one, as follows:

1. Start the conversation by telling your parent or disabled family member that you’re happy he or she has met someone – before gently stating your worries.
2If your parent or disabled loved one is making questionable financial choices, such as going on a cruise they can’t really afford, but is healthy and mentally competent, you need to accept it. Respect that everyone does have the right to spend his or her money any way he or she sees fit.
3If your loved one doesn’t believe the new partner is bad news, offer proof. If you can’t find what you’re looking for on your own, use Google and conduct a search or use a background check site. If you still can’t find anything, a last resort can be to hire a detective agency to do some sleuthing, even if it seems like a big intrusion. If the person turns out to be genuine, and simply not someone who you would pick for them, try and get along.
4.  Visit often: The most effective way to keep a romantically-inclined financial sponge away is to be present. Chances are, he or she will leave if they’re being frequently watched. If you live far away, and there is nobody to look out for your loved one, hire a professional caregiver to drop by for semi-regular visits.
5. Do things with and for your loved one. By doing things with your loved one —going to the doctor, shopping, going to movies, going to lunches together–you can better gauge how your loved one’s life is really going, and whether he or she needs help with ‘new friends’ or money issues.

6. Stay vigilant for signs of stress or loneliness, especially after the death of a loved one. In some cases, even if someone seems to be well, he or she may have more dementia, stress, and grief issues than he or she would admit to. Please read our blog post on “Overcoming Loneliness and Depression” for details on recognizing and dealing with these things.

7. Suggest that your loved one protect him or herself. In one instance, an elderly father became involved with the caregiver of his late wife and bought her a car as well as things for her kids. His son admitted that it was his dad’s money and if it made him happy to do this, then he was okay with it. However, he was afraid that his father’s new wife would get him to sign his home over to her and his father could end up homeless. His son shared his concerns with his father and suggested that he put his home in a trust so that it couldn’t be touched or signed away. The father agreed and was confident he had done the right thing one he signed the asset protection trust we drafted.

Planning to Protect Loved Ones
Keeping up with scams that are affecting seniors is important. It is also very important to keep up with your planning. If you have not done Incapacity Planning, Estate Planning, or Long-Term Care Planning, or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please contact us to make anappointment for an introductory consultation.
Fairfax Elder Law: 703-691-1888
Fredericksburg Elder Law: 540-479-1435
Rockville Elder Law: 301-519-8041
DC Elder Law: 202-587-2797
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