Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Welcome to the LSIS Investigative Journal

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Have a thoughtful & reflective Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

There are reasons that holidays are created.   

Have a safe & reflective Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday.

The Case of the Missing Cash (elderly with full time caregiver from a qualified agency)

 The Case of the Missing Cash 
(elderly with full time caregiver from a qualified agency)

Jan. 15, 2012

This really happened.

George is 90 and is generally doing well, but has a few memory problems.  His wife, Gloria worries about him keeping track of things.

He has a full time caregiver from a qualified agency. He goes to the gym for an hour every day. The caregiver drives him there and to the bank, to his errands and to lunch. He keeps cash on hand for his own use.
The last time George went to the bank, Gloria wanted to know what had happened to the $300 he withdrew.  He couldn't find it.

The next time, he said he had put $1000 in his "secret stash" drawer in his dresser.  It was empty.

He withdrew another $1000.  This time, $300 of it was missing almost immediately.  Gloria thought George had just misplaced it.

Then Gloria got a call from her credit card company.  Someone had tried to charge $15,000 worth of merchandise.  Because it was unusual, the amount triggered the call.  She had enough sense to cancel the credit card.  She didn't have enough sense to see what was becoming very plain.

The caregiver was stealing from them.

When I got the call about this case, I was more than a little frustrated.  Gloria felt sorry for the thief!  The caregiver's husband had walked out on her.  She was struggling, the caregiver had been telling them.  Well, Gloria didn't want to call the police, because she "didn't have the heart".

I gave Gloria a heads-up.  This thief is gaming you.  The "poor me" story is a trick to get your sympathy and it's working.  You must immediately change the bank accounts, cancel any credit cards to which the caregiver could have had access and change all passwords in your electronic banking.  And, you must call the police before the caregiver steals from anyone else. There needs to be a public record of this.

"There's no way to really prove it" Gloria says.  Not so, Gloria.  Ever hear of circumstantial evidence?  No one else had access and there was no one else in the house who could have taken the money, I told her.

Gloria reported her suspicions about the caregiver to the caregiver's employer agency, which immediately fired the caregiver.  Good.  At least we can stop further damage from lifting of cash.  However, the prospect of identify theft and using other credit card numbers remains a risk.  That risk can continue for many months, even years.

One of the worst parts of this story is that Gloria is not an assertive personality type and is very hesitant to take it upon herself to stop George from handling cash any longer.  He has always done his own banking.  He has always handled his money apart from hers.  It would be a major change.  But, I advised, it's time.  Gloria needs guidance to help George accept that it's time for her to take over the responsibility for all the finances.

The fact that George didn't know cash was missing was a red flag that Gloria missed.  Fortunately, greater losses did not occur before she figured it out.  We don't yet know who might have gotten George's credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security number, or other identifying information which would allow greater theft to happen.  Someone already had one credit card number and tried to use it.

The takeaway from this true and sad story is that we all need to keep a close watch on a 90 year old like George with memory problems.

Caregivers might be thieves to start with, or they might be in situations when financial pressure mounts. The temptation to steal from a vulnerable client is just too much.  No stranger coming into a private home with an elder should be completely trusted with money, valuables and private information.

No matter how good the employer agency or the background check, things happen and people can change when their financial situations worsen.

My personal take on this is that Gloria needs help to find the courage to stop putting her husband at risk for losing cash, or worse. I tell her not to be afraid that her husband won't like it if he can't take out $1000 whenever he feels like it.  His free rein with the handling of finances has already proven too dangerous.

My job is to coach her through this transition to managing all George's finances. I tell her what to tell George and how to keep him safe. I follow up. I nudge her along.  My motivation is that I don't want them to become repeat victims of financial elder abuse. They can be if things don't change.

Elders can protect themselves best when they are willing to overcome their own resistance to change.  But getting advice and acting on it are not the same thing.  Those who love them need to help.

How about your family?  Any vulnerable aging parents or other loved ones?  You can be the one to be on the alert for their financial safety.  You can look for the red flags, be smart about what you see and nip any trouble in the bud.  Your attention can save a disaster from happening.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

New Jersey lawmaker looks to update alimony rules after advocacy group claims lifetime punishment

New Jersey lawmaker looks to update alimony rules after advocacy group claims lifetime punishment

By Leah Krakinowski
Published January 11, 2012  | FoxNews.com

Fairness must be put back into divorce court, an advocacy group in New Jersey is arguing, pushing legislation to update what it says are antiquated alimony laws that disproportionately favor the recipients of alimony, regardless of changing circumstances.

"Lifetime alimony and the family court system in New Jersey are driving real people to the brink," Tom Leustek, president and founder of New Jersey Alimony Reform, told FoxNews.com. "My own divorce resulted in a lifetime alimony order in 2008. I remember during one of the court hearings, the judge saying to me, 'It's not fair, but it's the law.'"

Alimony, or spousal support, is an amount of money paid by one spouse after a divorce to enable the lower-income spouse to cover living expenses.

Leustek, a professor at a local university, contends that many of his state's alimony laws are slanted because they were established in the 1940s and 1950s when women were largely stay-at-home mothers and men were considered the principal income earner.

Leustak has won the ear of Republican state Sen. Sean Kean, who is sponsoring legislation that seeks a plan to overhaul Garden State alimony laws like lifetime payments.

"In New Jersey, an individual divorced 30 years ago could still be required to make payments to his or her spouse while in retirement, irrespective of changes in income or other life events," Kean said. "The existing law doesn't set adequate limits on the length and amount of alimony payments or provide for adjustments as a result of changed life circumstances.”

Kean introduced a bill on Tuesday, the first day of the new legislative session, that would set up a panel to study reforms. The senator noted that the issue of child support will not be part of the panel's investigation or resulting legislation.

Under New Jersey law, a judge may award lifetime alimony in a divorce judgment for marriages lasting as few as 10 years. Unless the spouse required to make payments successfully petitions the court, there is no legal provision for adjustments in the event of a loss of employment or earnings or a financially burdensome medical condition.

Thirteen factors currently influence New Jersey alimony judgments. They include: the need and ability of both parties; duration of the union; age and health of both parties; the standard of living and earning capacity of both parties; and the distribution of property. The state does not take into account fault for the break up of a marriage, over-spending or financial irresponsibility, credit card abuse or unwillingness to work.

Leustek formed the grassroots organization after closely watching sweeping changes in Massachusetts. Late last year, the Massachusetts Assembly unanimously voted to abolish lifetime spousal support in most cases; alimony now generally ends when a payer hits retirement or the person receiving spousal support begins living with a romantic partner. In addition, a new formula was established for alimony based on the length of the marriage. For example, after a 15-year marriage, alimony would generally last no longer than 10.5 years.

Several other states are considering similar changes.  The Florida Legislature recently introduced similar bills that if passed, would limit alimony amounts and duration; ease the burden of alimony payers permanently supporting ex-spouses and their live-in partners; and provide the right to renegotiate alimony based on a new law -- a key aspect of the Massachusetts law, which ensures equal treatment of both parties.

Opponents, however, say the changes may particularly harm women who did not work during their marriage, some of whom stayed at home at their husband's request.

Jonathan Wolfe, a matrimonial lawyer with the New Jersey firm, Skoloff & Wolfe, says if permanent alimony is eliminated, it will take away one of the important tools a judge has and the discretion to apply it.

"Divorce cases are so fact-specific that trying to come up with one set of rules for every marital situation is nearly impossible."

Wolfe said anytime a substantial change of circumstance takes place, divorced partners absolutely have the right to go back to court and get their alimony judgment changed.

Senator Kean disagreed, saying some judges are philosophically opposed to revisiting the judgment. "It doesn’t happen with great regularity and that process of revisiting is expensive, and a burden many applicants can't handle procedurally or economically."

The problem isn't just one of ex-husbands who must pay ex-wives. Linda Zampino, a long-time employee of a New Jersey pharmaceutical company, says she tried three times unsuccessfully to change her lifetime alimony order.

"The judge factored my annual bonus into my lifetime alimony payment," she said. “When that shrunk to almost nothing in the economic downturn, I couldn't make my bills and I went into foreclosure on my house; but I still had to pay."

Kean said he hopes to achieve more certainty for divorce litigants by providing concrete guidance to the directions divorce courts in New Jersey can take. "I'm not looking to abolish alimony, but you can't expect to hold people to the same standard when their economic and life situations have changed," he said.

Leustek said he believes the New Jersey law allows judges too much latitude in setting lifetime alimony. "This is like playing slot machines in front of a judge. People should be able to predict what their liability is going to be and when it's going to end."

While a number of states have equitable alimony laws on the books, nine states go by community property laws.

In Arizona, California, Idaho, Louisiana, Nevada, New Mexico, Texas, Washington and Wisconsin, everything acquired by both spouses during the marriage is considered community property and is split 50-50. Courts may award one spouse a larger share because of fault in the break-up of the marriage or a disparity in the two spouse's income potential, but is usually split down the middle.

"The reform movement isn’t against alimony,” Leustek says. "We realize people need support to get back on their feet, but it should be proportional to the length of marriage. Lifetime alimony is an abuse of this law."

That's the way Linda Zampino says she feels about it, adding that she's unable to switch jobs or take a retirement package unless the judge approves the alimony terms.

"My lawyer told me that marriage in New Jersey is not based on morals or standards; it's a financial agreement," Zampino said. "I didn't realize how heavily the state was involved when a marriage breaks up."

Divorced in 2008, Zampino currently pays $36,000 in yearly alimony, and has had to secure a life insurance policy as a means of ensuring that her former husband will receive his court-ordered payment.

"I can't even die," she said.