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  • Writer's pictureCatherine Swan

Even Someone Worth $40 Billion Can Be a Victim

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 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 spent 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 Mrs. Bettencourt 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. There are a number of advance planning tools that families can employ to help prevent financial exploitation. These include:

Advance Healthcare Directives These documents detail your wishes for healthcare when you are unable to speak for yourself, name a person to make health care decisions on your behalf and spell out who can be given access to your medical records. This should protect you and your loved ones from having to go to court in order to make healthcare decisions and save the expense, time and energy of a guardianship application, which can run a few thousand dollars.

Financial Power of Attorney This names your choices for people who will have power to handle your financial affairs if 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, appoint a conservator and pay your bills if you are unable to do so. An unnecessary court process could cost your loved ones $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 If you become incapacitated and if your 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 get a court involved at all. This is only true IF your assets are titled properly in the name of your trust. Oftentimes, when working with traditional lawyers or DIY services 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 loved ones 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 ensure your legacy is protected.

One of our primary goals at Swan Law, PC is to help people like you plan for the future and provide for their loved ones. Call 970.879.1572 to schedule your Legacy Planning Session today!

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