Elder Care

New Study Shows Caregivers Use Their Own Savings to Help Elderly Loved Ones

New findings reveal 7 in 10 caregivers reduced their own living expenses to cover caregiving costs.

“New findings reveal 7 in 10 caregivers reduced their own living expenses to cover caregiving costs.”

MP900404926Americans are feeling more of a pinch in their finances and lifestyle, because of the need to care for an elderly relative or friend, according to a Northwestern Mutual study.

Think Advisor’sarticle, “Americans Are Spending More but Planning Less for Caregiving: Northwestern Mutual,”says the study found that Gen X and Millennials are the heart of the sandwich generation and are struggling with the competing pressures of caring for aging family members and their own children. At the same time, they are trying to create financial security and maintain a lifestyle.

The 2018 Northwestern Mutual C.A.R.E. (Costs, Accountabilities, Realities, Expectations) Study gathered the responses from more than a thousand American adults from the general population, with an oversample of 233 American adults age 35 to 49 (for a total of 413) and an oversample of 709 experienced caregivers (for a total of 987).

The study found that 30% of the respondents identify as current or past caregivers and 22% expect to become caregivers in the future.  However, even though half of American caregivers say the care event was planned, many are still not prepared for the financial obligations, which seem to be increasing each year.

The survey found that 70% of caregivers provide financial support. In addition, 34% of current caregivers spend between 21% and 100% of their monthly budgets on caregiving-related expenses. Of those expenses, on average, $273 is spent on medicine/medical supplies and $159 on food, the survey found.

To cover caregiving costs, roughly 66% of experienced caregivers said they decreased their living expenses (significantly higher than the 51% who said so last year), according to the survey. However, the survey also found that people who believe they will provide care in the future, aren’t getting ready. About 57% of future caregivers anticipate incurring personal costs as a function of providing care. A total of 48% have not planned at all—a big increase from 35% last year.

“While financial expectations for caregivers continue to grow, unfortunately planning is taking a backseat,” Williams-Kemp said in a statement. “In an environment of rising costs and fluctuating economic and health care realities, winging it isn’t an option. Being proactive before a long-term event happens can help ensure that you can still take care of your own needs, while caring for someone else’s well-being.”

Americans also aren’t planning for their own long-term care events. The study found that 75% of those surveyed said they haven’t planned for their own long-term care needs. Of those who did take steps to prepare, 52% included provisions in their financial plan, 42% purchased a long-term care product and 35% increased their savings.

 The study also revealed that while many Americans expect that their partner or children will be the ones to take care of them if and when they need help, more than two thirds have never actually discussed this with their family members. It’s not an easy subject to broach, but one that should be part of a larger conversation about aging and expectations.

Reference: Think Advisor (March 15, 2018) “Americans Are Spending More but Planning Less for Caregiving: Northwestern Mutual”

Making Financial Planning Part of Your Wedding Planning?

Once you’ve worked through the financial and legal part of planning your new life together, many issues that plague marriages will be resolved.

No, it’s not as romantic as planning a honeymoon along a sandy beach. But once you’ve worked through the financial and legal part of planning your new life together, many issues that plague marriages will be resolved. That’s romantic!

26201363701_de6af9d0ed_oThe leading cause of stress in relationships in general and marriages in particular are finances, as reported in an article from My Primetime News, “Hearing Wedding Bells? Be Sure Finances are Included in Your Planning,”by Gerald Rome, Colorado Securities Commissioner. As many as a third of people, say that money is the primary source of discord in their partnership. Therefore, why not eliminate the problem by addressing it?

Rome notes that summer is wedding season. Whether you’re taking the plunge later in life—maybe for the second time or advising a young couple about to make the ultimate commitment—much of the thought process is the same. There’s perhaps no topic less uncomfortable, but more important, than finances.

Before you or a loved one say, “I do,” be sure to consider the following:

Transparency.Many divorces stem from a lack of honesty about finances. Before you walk down the aisle, be sure you know everything about your betrothed’s financial past, spending habits, investing philosophy, and goals for the future. That means sharing information on major debts from education, business, and home loans, as well as credit scores and bankruptcy history. If you’re entering a second marriage, be truthful about any alimony being paid to or received from a former spouse.

For those marrying later in life, think about how or whether to merge accumulated assets and how to compromise on handling financial affairs, after what may have been many years of individual decision-making.

Financial Roles.For co-mingled finances, it’s important to be certain that you’re clear on who will handle what. Many financial issues that arise later in life, are due to one spouse not knowing what’s going on and being deluged with a mountain of new information and decision-making, in the event of a spouse’s sudden illness or death.

Prenuptial Agreement.Detailing what will happen to assets if the marriage fails, isn’t about a lack of trust—it’s about being prepared.

Estate Planning.Organize your property to ensure that no matter what happens, your family’s financial needs will be met. This includes drafting powers of attorney, creating or revising your wills, purchasing life insurance policies, revisiting retirement accounts and investment funds, establishing trusts and naming beneficiaries and considering any tax implications.

By dealing with the business side of marriage from the start, you may learn a lot more about your intended than you would if you had avoided the conversation. Once you know what each other’s financial status is, good or bad, you can figure out how to fix it—or enjoy it! By working with an experienced estate planning attorney and getting your estate plan prepared, you’ll be ready to relax and enjoy each other, without any nagging worries about financial or legal mysteries.

Reference: My Primetime News (May 2, 2018) “Hearing Wedding Bells? Be Sure Finances are Included in Your Planning”

How to Tackle Nursing Home Challenges

Unless you have experienced the feelings of powerlessness and confusion that often accompanies being admitted to a nursing home, it’s hard to imagine how difficult an adjustment this can be.

Unless you have experienced the feelings of powerlessness and confusion that often accompanies being admitted to a nursing home, it’s hard to imagine how difficult an adjustment this can be.

NursingPatients are not the only ones who have a tough time getting used to life in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Families are often at a loss with how to deal with a chaotic situation and often find themselves fighting with each other, as they struggle to cope.

Forbes’recent article, “How Nursing Homes Can Destroy Families,”says that we depend on the people with the most experience to help us through this. However, it does not always work out for the best. In that case, as the situation for a loved one continues to deteriorate and as family members try to address mounting issues, it can take a toll on relationships. Let’s look at some of the factors:

Poor Organization. See if there’s a clear chain of command at the nursing home and find out who you should contact with your questions. Get one person to work with in order to avoid confusion. There may be a high turnover rate among employees, so try to maintain contact with the highest-level staff member and secure a secondary contact.

Misinformation. In workplaces with high turnover, some may be unsure of their own roles. Whether the staff members are new, poorly trained, or even disinterested in their positions, this is problematic because you’re relying on these employees for critical information. To avoid this, try to discuss things with one person and document every interaction. You may consider making email your primary mode of contact, so you have a written record of everything that’s been said. That record may be valuable, if there’s an issue.

Staffing Problems.Nursing homes struggle to keep employees, especially the good ones. You may quickly see how much this impacts the quality of care at many different levels, for your loved one. This could present itself in poorly maintained rooms or poorly maintained records. An understaffed senior residence can be a dangerous place. However, there may be little that you can do. This isn’t an uncommon issue and seniors could be left being neglected. Make the effort to be friendly with the staff and show them you’re invested.It will send the message that you’re kind but persistent.

Family Fighting. Families can battle over the care plan or squabble over assets, and tempers may flare. The nursing home setting may worsen this dynamic. In addition to the frustration with any gaps in care, family members may find themselves arguing about all sorts of issues.

Medical Malpractice. In some instances, a nursing home resident can be physically or mentally harmed by negligent medical care.

An elder law attorney will be able to help you navigate through certain challenges of dealing with the nursing home. She or he will also be able to refer you to a social worker outside of the nursing home, who will be able to help your family address the emotional stress that often accompanies this type of situation.

Reference: Forbes(April 28, 2018) “How Nursing Homes Can Destroy Families”

Work Requirements from Medicaid May Harm Some Seniors

States that have opted to require Medicaid recipients to work, will put some seniors at risk of losing healthcare coverage.

States that have opted to require Medicaid recipients to work, will put some seniors at risk of losing healthcare coverage.

Bigstock-Senior-couple-standing-togethe-12052331A recent article from US News & World Report, “How Medicaid Work Requirements Could Hurt Older Americans,”explains how the new requirements for Medicaid recipients to work or meet “community engagement” requirements may create hardships for some seniors. Many lower income Americans depend on Medicaid for healthcare, including adults age 50 to 64, who often suffer from chronic health conditions.

The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announced in January that states can apply for waivers to implement work requirements for people who receive Medicaid benefits. The waivers have been approved in three states and are pending approval in others. Age limits vary for who might have to fulfill work or "community engagement" requirements for up to 80 hours a month. In Kentucky, Medicaid recipients are exempt at 64. In Indiana, it’s 60, and in Arkansas, 50 is the threshold. Some other states are looking to implement work requirements. They include Arizona, Kansas, Maine, Mississippi, New Hampshire, Utah and Wisconsin.

Beth Kuhn, commissioner of the Kentucky Department of Workforce Investment, notes that most people on Medicaid also receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits—also known as food stamps. For those 80% of Medicaid recipients, she says, work requirements don't apply after age 49.

Community engagement is the prime focus of the new requirements, which entails four facets: volunteering, training and education, work, and caregiving of a family or community member in need.

There are many who are excluded from the requirement, and one group is the medically frail. Medical frailty would be determined by an eligibility specialist.  However, it’s not clear now how chronic medical conditions impacting many beneficiaries, like asthma, diabetes, heart disease, high cholesterol, and hypertension, will be considered.

A group of Kentucky residents receiving Medicaid, are now being represented in a federal class action lawsuit by The Southern Poverty Law Center, National Health Law Program, and Kentucky Equal Justice Center. A joint brief was filed by the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA), AARP, AARP Foundation, Justice in Aging and the Disability Rights Education and Defense Fund.

According to a spokesperson with Justice in Aging, the brief focuses on the elimination of pre-application coverage, elimination of non-emergency medical transportation and the imposition of lockout penalties for various transgressions. With no pre-application coverage, an individual could easily become liable for thousands of dollars of health care costs, if an illness or injury prevented them from filing a Medicaid application.

Reference: US News & World Report (April 20, 2018) “How Medicaid Work Requirements Could Hurt Older Americans”

Finding the Right Assisted Living Facility for Now and the Future

People moving into an assisted living facility should do a lot of research to make sure they get the quality care and the services they need.

People moving into an assisted living facility should do a lot of research to make sure they get the quality care and the services they need. Their lives may depend on it.

MP900407501Life in an assisted living facility is a welcome alternative to aging seniors who are no longer able to remain in their own homes, but don’t want or need to live in a nursing home, which often feels like living in a hospital. They can receive the services they need, while enjoying a full roster of activities and the companionship of their peers. It sounds like a good plan, and in many cases, it is.

However,Consumer Reports’recent article, “5 Steps for Choosing the Right Assisted Living Community”says that finding the right residence can be a huge challenge.

Right off the bat, the cost is high. In 2017, the median fee for a private one-bedroom was $45,000 a year, according to Genworth, a long-term care insurer. Most residents pay out of pocket, although some qualify for Medicaid. Medicare generally does not cover long-term care services.

In addition, shortfalls in caregiving can be a problem for assisted living residents. A 2017 survey of state long-term-care ombudsmen conducted for Consumer Reports, which monitors senior living facilities nationwide, found the most common complaints dealt with understaffing and delays in response to calls for assistance. Ombudsman data show that complaints about assisted living have gone up 10% in recent years.

For families looking at into assisted living facilities for a family member, there are ways to find a facility that delivers quality care in a comfortable setting. The key is to conduct thorough research. You should egin by asking these five key questions:

  1. What Kind of Care is Required?Remember that different facilities offer varying levels of care. Is there a registered nurse on staff? Without this basic level of care, your loved one might end up going to the ER more often.
  2. What is the Quality of Care?Look at the residence’s licensing and inspection records, to see if there are any issues. To get a feel for the way things work, make several visits to the facility. Go for meals and during the weekends, when fewer staff are on duty. You should also talk to residents and their families about their experiences.
  3. Uncover the Real Costs of the Care. Get a written list of fees and charges from the residence and be sure that they’re included in the contract. It is recommended that you hire an elder law attorney, who’s familiar with local facilities, to review the terms of the contract.
  4. Can Your Parent or Family Member Age in Place? Find out what scenarios might trigger a discharge, and whether you could hire private aides, if more care is required. You should also ask what assistance the facility would be able to provide, if a move is needed.
  5. Is an Advocate Available? If family and friends are not able to visit on a frequent basis, the potential for problems increases. Care issues, from cleanliness to patient treatment, may not be readily apparent to an elderly resident, especially if they are suffering from dementia. Consider hiring an aging life-care expert or social worker to make frequent visits, if you are unable to. If the facility’s management knows someone is keeping a watchful eye, the quality of care will be better.

Reference: Consumer Reports (April 16, 2018) “5 Steps for Choosing the Right Assisted Living Community”

Diagnosis for Early Onset Alzheimer Not an Easy Matter

For younger patients, early-onset Alzheimer’s symptoms are usually disregarded or blamed on fatigue, depression or stress.

Bigstock-Beautiful-woman-looking-throug-20311445It often takes a very long time before a young person having problems with memory loss or confusion is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. The Concord Monitor reports, in “Stolen Memories: Problems with diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s,the delay in diagnosis can lead to problems with work and health insurance coverage.

One-third of the people with younger-onset Alzheimer’s, who responded to a 2006 survey by the Alzheimer’s Association said it took them somewhere between one to six years to receive an accurate diagnosis of Alzheimer’s. Subsequent studies by the Alzheimer’s Association have estimated that as many as 50% of people of all ages with the disease neverreceive a diagnosis.

Unfortunately, there is no easy blood test that can be used to detect the brain disease. Diagnoses are usually confirmed through a combination of neuropsychological exams, analyses of a patient’s family history and costly spinal taps, MRIs, PET and CAT scans to view plaques and tangles in the brain.

Meanwhile, because of this delay, younger people can have issues at work because of the symptoms.

“Families will come in to meet with me and I’ll say, ‘Are you still working?’ and they’ll say, ‘No, I got laid off,’ or, ‘I took an early retirement, because I wasn’t sure what was going on,’ and lo and behold they realized later they had Alzheimer’s,” said Melissa Grenier, manager of the New Hampshire Alzheimer’s Association.

Because of the time it takes to get an accurate diagnosis, patients with early dementia frequently are fired or move from job to job. Most patients displaying symptoms are not aware of it at the time.  As a result, it can be discouraging and frustrating.

If a person had a heart condition, they would be aware of the illness and would be able to work with their employer to ensure that they continued to have a job and health insurance coverage and/or disability insurance coverage.  However, if they are fired or stop working before receiving an Alzheimer’s diagnosis, they will lose the financial safety net. Treating a condition like Alzheimer’s costs hundreds of thousands of dollars.

The person with Alzheimer’s is usually the last to know that there are issues. Those patients who are aware of changes in behavior, can be reluctant to speak with their employer. They fear that they could lose their positions.

Families facing early-onset Alzheimer’s should speak with an elder lawyer. This is not an easy situation, and professional help will be needed.

Reference: Concord Monitor(April 8, 2018) “Stolen Memories: Problems with diagnosis of younger-onset Alzheimer’s”

Mortality Rates Might Make You Think Twice About Claiming Social Security

They say that numbers don’t lie—and you definitely want to know about this data!

They say that numbers don’t lie—and you definitely want to know about this data!

MP900408932 (1)Before you decide to retire at age 62 and start taking Social Security benefits, you may want to dig a little deeper into the statistics, especially if you are a man.

“Your life might depend on your decision,” MarketWatchnotes in its article, “Why early retirement can be a killer.”This is because there’s a significant increase in mortality among men who retire at 62 and begin receiving Social Security, according to a new study that recently was distributed by the National Bureau of Economic Research.

The increase in the death rate is quite large, particularly among males who retire and claim Social Security at 62. The study found it to be by 20%. However, the data are inconclusive among females.

The authors of the study believe there is a causal link. Evidence of such a link is from the period before it was even possible to claim Social Security as early as age 62. During that earlier period, the researchers found there was no abnormally high increase in mortality at age 62. Thus, the unexpectedly large increase in mortality at age 62 starts to occur in the historical record right when people could start claiming their Social Security benefits at that earlier age.

So why would taking early retirement lead to increased mortality? The research found unhealthy changes in life style that often go with retirement. For instance, there is other research that found male “retirees become sedentary, often watching more television.” But there appears to be no increase in sedentariness among females after retirement—perhaps a reason why there is a lower mortality rate among women who retire at age 62.

Also, unlike women, male retirees, in particular, also typically have fewer social interactions after they stop working, which other research has shown has a negative impact on health. There are also studies that found there to be an increase in tobacco and alcohol use after stopping work.

There’s no requirement you must stop working when you claim Social Security benefits at age 62; however, a third of those who do claim their benefits at that age do stop working.

Some will conclude from this research they should delay claiming Social Security for as long as they can. If they can’t, they should keep working—even if part time. This might be the right thing to do, if it keeps you from engaging in unhealthy behaviors.

If your retirement plans include a healthy diet, lots of exercise and social activities, and if your overall health is good, you may be the exception to these statistics. Remember the key factor isn’t so much that you retire, but what you do when you retire.

Reference: MarketWatch (March 24, 2018) “Why early retirement can be a killer”

Undue Influence Found by Appellate Court in Case of Elderly Man and Neighbor

If undue influence can be proven, it is established that a will can be set aside.

If undue influence can be proven, it is established that a will can be set aside.

Wills-trusts-and-estates-coveredA 2013 probate judgment ordering Frank and Angelina Picciolo to return all funds that Mrs. Picciolo received was appealed. The funds were from an annuitiy transfer that her husband completed, while acting as attorney-in-fact for their neighbor William C. Mallas

The Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division recently decided this in the case captioned “In re Estate of Mallas.” Apparently, before his death, Mallas executed a power of attorney (POA) naming Frank as attorney-in-fact, a new will naming Angelina as a beneficiary and later, a codicil appointing Frank as executor.

Frank used the POA to transfer funds contained in a long-standing Bristol Myers Squibb IRA into two annuities, with the estate as beneficiary. Sometime later, Frank used his POA to transfer the annuities into one annuity with another company and designated Angelina as sole beneficiary.

The sales agent for the annuity transaction testified that Frank directed him to make Angelina, instead of himself, the primary beneficiary, because Frank had an IRS lien against him. The sales agent also testified that he met with Frank and Angelina on several occasions, but he never met with Mallas. When the agent requested to meet Mallas, Frank told the agent it "wouldn't be feasible to go meet him."

At his deposition, Frank testified that the annuity sales agent met with Mallas in his home. At trial, Frank changed his testimony and said he confused the sales agent with a bank employee who handled the elderly man’s accounts. At trial, Angelina admitted she "had very little contact with Mr. Mallas," and "never set foot in his house."

After Mallas died in 2010, Frank filed to probate the will and codicil. Two of Mallas’s nieces challenged the decedent's will, codicil, POA and the annuity transaction. The Chancery Division found that Mallas had the required capacity to execute each document and the benefit of independent counsel. The court upheld the POA, will, and codicil, but found that Frank "failed to prove . . . that no undue influence was exerted" upon Mallas regarding the purchase of an annuity, which designated Angelina as sole beneficiary. As a result, the court ordered Angelina to disgorge all related benefits and ordered the beneficiary changed to "the Estate of William Mallas."

The court also concluded that Frank "failed to properly account" for his actions using the POA. The court also removed him as executor because, "[a]s a result of this [c]ourt's decision, the Estate of William Mallas has substantial claims against him."

On appeal, in a per curiam opinion, Judges Reisner, Hoffman, and Mayer of the Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division wrote that the concept of undue influence connotes "mental, moral, or physical exertion of a kind and quality that destroys the free will of the testator by preventing that person from following the dictates of his or her own mind as it relates to the disposition of assets . . ." This is generally accomplished "by means of a will or inter vivos transfer in lieu thereof."

The challenger of a will typically maintains the burden of proof in showing undue influence, but the Court explained that the burden shifts when a beneficiary "stood in a confidential relationship to the testator and if there are additional 'suspicious' circumstances" present. A confidential relationship exists when "the testator, 'by reason of . . . weakness or dependence,' reposes trust in the particular beneficiary, or if the parties occupied a 'relation[ship] in which reliance [was] naturally inspired or in fact exist[ed].'"

The Appellate Division judges said that similar principles apply for setting aside inter vivos gifts and property transfers on the grounds of undue influence. To establish a presumption of undue influence and shift the burden of proof, a challenger must show either that "the donee dominated the will of the donor or . . . a confidential relationship exist[ed] between [the] donor and donee.”  However, here there’s no requirement that the challengers show suspicious circumstances to set them aside.

To rebut the presumption after the burden switches, the beneficiary must prove "not only that 'no deception was practiced therein, no undue influence used, and that all was fair, open and voluntary, but that it was well understood.'"

In this case, the Appellate Division found that the trial judge reasonably determined that a confidential relationship existed between Mallas and Frank and that as to the suspicious circumstances surrounding the execution of each of the challenged documents in the case, the judge concluded that Frank met his burden of proving there was no undue influence exerted by him in connection with the estate planning documents and beneficiary designations.

 However, with the annuity, the trial judge said that Frank and Angelina failed to carry their burden of proving the absence of undue influence. The appellate court said there was sufficient evidence in the record of the confidential relationship between Mallas and Frank and the highly suspicious circumstances surrounding the annuity transaction.  However, the record contained no credible evidence to rebut the presumption of undue influence, they said.

The trial judge crafted an equitable remedy that accounted for the lack of credible evidence that the annuity transaction had been authorized by Mallas, stated the Appellate Division. It also found that there was no credible evidence that Mallas intended to have that transaction nullify his will and codicil, which was done with the benefit of counsel.

Reference: Superior Court of New Jersey, Appellate Division (March 6, 2018) “In re Estate of Mallas”

Guardianship Nightmares Surge in Unregulated Environment

With a growing population of elderly, the lack of regulations and oversight has led to a disastrous situation for adults who lose civil liberties via guardianship proceedings.

With a growing population of elderly, the lack of regulations and oversight has led to a disastrous situation for adults who lose civil liberties via guardianship proceedings.

MP900442275A review by the Reading Eagle of court documents in three Pennsylvania counties show that when it is necessary for Adult Protective Services to intervene, agencies prefer having professional guardians rather than family members.

The story, “Finding solutions to Pennsylvania's troubled system of naming guardians,” reports that over the past two decades, filings statewide have risen 28%, faster than the increase of people 60 and older—the demographic most likely to be in a guardianship. In fact, the system in Pennsylvania already shows signs of strain: the Philadelphia Orphans Court is willing to retain a felon convicted of financial fraud as guardian to dozens of incapacitated adults, because of a shortage of professionals able to assume her caseload.

Advocates for reform say that finding solutions is critical, because of the explosive growth in a cottage industry of paid professionals that has supplanted roles traditionally held by family members.

"You can lose your civil rights," said Sam Brooks, senior attorney for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, one of the leading advocates for the elderly in the state. "There needs to be some sort of system that ensures less invasive steps are taken."

Advocates call it supported-decision making, the process of accommodating individuals with disabilities or cognitive deficits (the most common justification for guardianship) by including family, friends, and other social support to enable life decisions without restricting the adult's autonomy.

 However, in many cases, the adult who’s alleged to be incapacitated is not present or not represented by an attorney in many of these proceedings. In many instances, judges will waive the attendance requirement with a doctor's testimony on behalf of the petitioner, that being present would be harmful to the senior in the guardianship proceedings. When counsel is appointed, Pennsylvania doesn't require attorneys to resist a guardian appointment and instead allows them to decide what is in their client's best interest.

Many adults in guardianship without resources are put in nursing homes and other facilities. However, advocates say that reform might save the state money because of the institutional costs.

Advocates also want standards established that would professionalize the industry and create a post-appointment monitoring system to filter out bad actors. For example, Philadelphia judges repeatedly appointed Gloria Byars, a convicted felon, to serve as guardian to vulnerable adults. This wasn’t against the law, because Pennsylvania doesn't have any standards for becoming a guardian. The state also doesn’t require a background check.

A statewide system to manage the industry is hoped to be in place by the end of this year. The hope is that this system will be able to effectively flat unscrupulous guardians, whether they are family members or professionals.

Reference: Reading (PA) Eagle (March 6, 2018) “Finding solutions to Pennsylvania's troubled system of naming guardians”

Insurance Agent Ordered to Give Back $1 Million from Client Policies

An administrative law judge said that Blanche Berenzweig should return the $1 million she collected from a deceased client’s estate.

An administrative law judge said that Blanche Berenzweig should return the $1 million she collected from a deceased client’s estate. The heirs of a reclusive man have objected to the will, claiming that she pressured their uncle.

Claire-anderson-60670This fall, a trial will be held to determine who LeRoy Ern’s real heirs are, as ordered by Milwaukee County Circuit Judge Marshall Murray. With an estate worth $1.6 million, the reclusive man, who died at 92 of advanced dementia, left his entire estate to a retired insurance agent. His will was drafted by an attorney that shared an office with the insurance agent.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel article, “Insurance agent should give up $1 million received from client's policies, judge recommends,” reports that 11 of Ern's 12 nieces and nephews objected to the will that was drafted in 2009. They said Berenzweig improperly pressured their reclusive uncle.

Ern also gave her power of attorney over his financial and health affairs, if he became incapacitated.

Rachel Pings, an administrative law judge, wrote a proposed order that was filed in the Circuit Court probate case. She says Berenzweig put herself in a position to entirely manage his money and exploited Ern's trust and isolation by knowingly being named as the beneficiary of his annuities, when she had no insurable interest in his life.

"She profited illegally by more than $1 million," Pings wrote.

The order now goes to state Insurance Commissioner who will decide whether to uphold the recommendations that Berenzweig return the annuity proceeds, permanently revoke her insurance license and fine her $3,000. The annuity proceeds are frozen.

Pings' decision says the fact that Berenzweig served as Ern's agent, beneficiary, and power of attorney posed obvious conflicts.

Ern was never close to his nieces and nephews. The relationships grew more distant as his siblings died. He met Berenzweig in 1993, when she helped him purchase an annuity. They became reacquainted in 2008, when Ern was having a problem with that policy.

A friendship developed, and Berenzweig said she vehemently objected to Ern making her the beneficiary of the annuities and the estate but that her client was insistent.

Pings noted in her opinion that insurance regulators consider Berenzweig "an unethical insurance agent who took advantage of her position of trust with a lonely old man, so she could benefit from his sizable estate when he died."

Berenzweig’s attorney argues that she did not violate any laws or rules, but that some of the problems she is facing could have been avoided. The entire will, which named Berenzweig the sole beneficiary, is being challenged.

Reference: The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (March 12, 2018) “Insurance agent should give up $1 million received from client's policies, judge recommends”

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