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Protecting Our Family When It Matters Most

Ali Katz


A drama currently playing out in a French courtroom demonstrates that any elderly person can fall victim to financial abuse, even the second wealthiest woman in the world.

Lilliane Bettencourt, 92, is heiress to the L’Oreal cosmetics fortune, and Forbes has estimated her worth at $40 billion.  According to a recent New York Times story, a current lawsuit in French court -- dubbed the “Bettencourt affair” -- is a universal story of an elderly, wealthy woman who vacillates between vulnerability and independence.

No doubt due to her vast wealth, Mrs. Bettencourt has spend almost the last decade of her life in and out of French courts.  Her only child, Francoise Bettencourt-Meyers, sought to have her declared incompetent four years ago when it was discovered that Mrs. Bettencourt had gifted more than $1 billion to a society photographer, François-Marie Banier.  Banier is the focus of the current case, where he is being prosecuted for financial exploitation along with several others, including Mrs. Bettencourt’s former wealth manager.

Elder financial abuse is also becoming more prevalent in the U.S., and there are a number of advance planning tools that families can employ to help prevent financial exploitation.  These include:

Advance medical directives -- these documents detail your wishes as to your medical care in case of incapacity, names a person to make health care decisions on your behalf and spells out who can be given access to your medical records.  This should protect you and your family from having to go to court in order to make medical decisions for you and saves them the cost and time/energy of a guardianship application, which can run into several thousands of dollars.

Financial power of attorney – these name your choices for the person who will be given the power to handle your financial affairs in case you are no longer able to do so yourself.  A financial power of attorney will save your family the cost of having to go to court to get access to your financial accounts and to pay your bills if you are not able to do it yourself. An unnecessary court process could cost your family $10,000 or more.  Plus, we are hearing reports from many states of children applying for financial conservatorship of their parents, not being able to qualify and watching their parents’ assets dwindle to nothing when a professional conservator is appointed.

Trusts – in the event you become incapacitated, if you are assets are titled in trust, your Successor Trustee can step right in and easily handle things on your behalf with a simple document from your attorney and not have to get the court involved at all.  This is only true IF your assets are titled properly in the name of your trust. Oftentimes, when working with a traditional forms or documents lawyer or a service like LegalZoom®, your assets will not be titled properly, so be sure to double-check that now.

A Personal Attorney -- sometimes even the best documents will not keep your family out of court.  What you really need is an attorney who knows you -- and knows who you trust and have a relationship with -- to ease the process for your loved ones and to ensure greedy financial folks don’t rip you off.

One of the main goals of our law practice is to help families like yours plan for the protection of yourself and your family through thoughtful estate planning.  Contact a Personal Family Lawyer® today to schedule a time for us to sit down and talk through a Family Wealth Planning Session, where we can identify the best strategies for you and your family.