Berman & Asbel, LLP

Exploitation of seniors a problem doctors want to help diagnose

The truth is that in many cases the administration of an estate can leave some actual or even expectant beneficiaries dissatisfied with their inheritance. Some beneficiaries may think that their inheritance is too small, someone else's was too large or that the gifts made in the will simply don't make sense.

Dissatisfaction often leads to one or more beneficiaries contesting the will -- whether the "dissatisfaction" is completely warranted or not. These probate disputes often center around an argument that someone unduly influenced the decisions of a testator who was incompetent or incapacitated at the time. What if a doctor could not only diagnose the mental state of a patient, but whether fraud has occurred?

Data shows that seniors hold approximately 70 percent of the wealth in the nation and approximately 35 percent of those above the age of 71 suffer to a small degree from Alzheimer's. It often only takes a period incompetence for undue influence to occur, so even mild cognitive impairment due to the disease could lead to abuse, influence or fraud.

A group of doctors and nurses were recently surveyed about the topic of fraud and undue influence against seniors. A large percentage of them not only said that they are in a unique position to see signs of financial exploitation but also that they had an interest in helping.

Of those surveyed, 61 percent said that they would sign up for continuing medical education classes to help. Another 84 percent showed willingness in a formal process to notify the police.

When an inheritance does lead to a claim of undue influence, it is important for those with an interest in the estate to seek the assistance of an experienced estate administration attorney -- whether it involves defending or contesting the will.

Source: Star Tribune, "Health beat: Could doctors diagnose fraud?" Dan Browning, June 15, 2013

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