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'Dad is not alone': Wyoming family sounds alarm on dangers of financial elder abuse

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Posted at 5:18 PM, Jun 14, 2024

It hasn’t been an easy last couple of years for Jerry Saunders or his three daughters.

“Our dad was diagnosed in 2018 with dementia,” says daughter Stacy Sweeney.

A retired obstetrician and gynecologist who delivered hundreds of babies over the years in Sheridan, Wyoming, Saunders was later declared incompetent. That triggered his wife as power of attorney and some surprises for his children from his first wife, who had passed away.

“Over the last two years we have made some huge discoveries most of his assets had been taken,” says Sweeney.

Most of his assets, including his IRA, had been changed to his wife’s name while Saunders was moved to a place that his daughters say he never wanted to be—a nursing home.

“So had she predeceased my dad, if we wouldn’t have discovered this, he would have been penniless. And it was his hard work over 40 years of medical practice that built up this money to take care of him,” Sweeney says.

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The National Council on Aging says mental impairment, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease, make older adults more vulnerable to abuse—which can take many forms—including financial.

“I think a lot of it comes down to some kind of financial exploitation. So, families taking advantage of either a housing situation, vehicles of an elderly person going into care, or direct access to bank accounts,” says Morgan Dake, legal counsel in the pro bono department for Crowley Fleck in Billings.

She says the situation that has caused so much emotional strain for Saunders’ daughters is more common than you might think.

“A lot of the abuse that happens is actually from known people in your life. So, you need to identify early on who the people are that you truly can trust. Set yourself up that they have your information and that they can access it when needed,” she says.

After an expensive court battle, Saunders’ daughters were awarded power of attorney, trust advisor, and caretaker.

“The main reason we wanted to bring this story forward is Dad is not alone. This happens all the time where a trusted family member will take somebody’s assets,” Stacy says.

Stacy has moved him in with her family in North Carolina and says he is thriving there.

“Family is so important to my dad and being in our home where our kids and grandkids will come in and out, and dogs-- all the things that he loves, I think it will be really good for him,” she says.