Protecting Your Elder’s Money

The ultimate betrayal

Tabloid coverage of the Brooke Astor case helped raise awareness of elder financial abuse.

The New York Post called it the “swindle trial.” Jurors likened it to a “Shakespearean tragedy.” When New York socialite Anthony D. Marshall was convicted of defrauding and stealing from his elderly mother, philanthropist Brooke Astor, reports detailed how he conspired with lawyer Francis Morrissey to amend her will in his favor, took millions without her consent, and lifted paintings from her walls while she languished in her Park Avenue home. The trial painted a portrait of greed and filial neglect. Both men were sentenced to one to three years in prison and are currently out pending appeal.

 

Elsie Brooks’s lifestyle was a world apart from Astor’s, but their stories are tragically similar. When she was 72 she sold her mobile home and moved in with her daughter and granddaughter in Monterey, Calif. She decided she didn’t want to deal with her finances any longer and let the two take control. But her daughter, Lisa Karen MacAdams, and granddaughter, Christi Schoenbachler, drained Brooks of jewelry, furniture, and an annuity worth almost $90,000, and abandoned her at a nursing facility, according to court documents. They were convicted of grand theft and financial elder abuse, both felonies, and two counts of misdemeanor elder abuse. Last summer, a California appeals court stayed one of Schoenbachler’s misdemeanor charges.

 

Elder financial abuse is “the ultimate betrayal,” says Colleen Toy White, a superior court judge in Ventura County, Calif., who sees roughly 40 cases of such abuse each month. “It’s shocking to see how vulnerable the elder person is.”

We’ve told you about scams by strangers, among them fraudulent sweepstakes phone calls and investments, and grandparent scams (“Scamnation!,” October 2012 issue). Far more insidious are deceptions by neighbors, friends, employees, and relatives—the very people entrusted to care for and protect seniors.

 

Such abuse can be financially and emotionally devastating. And experts say it’s likely to increase because of a stalled economy and an aging population. Awareness is rising thanks to cases such as Astor’s. Yet because seniors might not recognize when it happens to them or are too ashamed to speak, the crime lurks largely out of sight.

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