Member Spotlight: Lasting Links

Helping Fight Financial Vulnerabilities in Our Aging Population

By Aisling Swift
Collier County Office of Business & Economic Development

One in every five U.S. residents will reach retirement age by 2030 and within five years, U.S. Census officials say, that Baby Boomer population will outnumber children nationwide for the first time in history.

That huge senior population is a prime target for fraud, costing unsuspecting people about $36.48 billion yearly, according to a 2015 survey.

Increasing elder fraud, Naples’ large senior population and past experiences with elderly banking customers prompted attorney Shelley Rhoads Perry in May 2016 to set up Lasting Links LLC, a fiduciary and financial health care management business. Perry structured the business as a social enterprise company, incorporating the “double bottom line” of profit and purpose.

A year later, Perry was joined by a former banking co-worker, Linda Flores, and they set up shop at the Naples Accelerator. The two, who’d previously worked together at a private bank, have years of experience in law, banking, real estate and insurance. Their focus is to help Collier County’s vulnerable adults and the family caregivers who care for them.

“We’re financial caregivers. That’s our mission,” says Perry, an elder law attorney. “By protecting vulnerable seniors, we can help the families through a very difficult time, and provide continuity in care and financial oversight. We want to preserve a lifetime of savings, so it’s used as the individual intended.”

“The word is getting out about the financial exploitation of elderly people. It’s everybody’s business and I rarely meet anyone who hasn’t been affected in some way,” she adds.

The two collaborate with family members, doctors, advisors and caregivers to ensure a vulnerable adult has the best care, whether it’s financial or health care needs.

As a Florida licensed attorney, Perry can serve as a fiduciary, serving as an elderly person’s independent trustee, agent under a durable power of attorney or personal representative. Lasting Links also offers services such as paying bills, managing property, mail and emails, reviewing bank and investment statements, and coordinating health care services.

They get most of their clients by referral, word of mouth from clients and from attorneys who know the women’s work. One afternoon a month, they offer free services at the Alzheimer’s Support Network, where they answer worried caregivers’ legal, and financial questions, and review paperwork and legal documents. Often, they solve the problems there, but sometimes caregivers are referred back to their attorneys for further legal help.

“Sometimes, we’ll have a waiting list, especially in season,” says Flores, who has 25 years of experience in banking. “People are told what documents to bring. Understandably, they come into the appointment feeling overwhelmed. They just want to be reassured that they’ve taken the right steps to protect their loved one, or they ask, ‘What can I do to protect myself?’ ”

Perry says Flores is especially in-demand because of her extensive banking knowledge.  “Banking restrictions are a major headache for the caregivers acting under a Durable Power of Attorney,” she adds.

Flores calls Naples the perfect area for financial fraud due to its large senior population. She’s seen it occur everywhere, including with her uncle, who naively paid for non-refundable services he didn’t need, and a bank customer who withdrew large amounts of money only to be told by Flores that she was the latest victim in a grandparent scam that was spreading nationwide.

“She died a week later, probably due to the stress,” Flores says. “The sad thing is that she had family, but they weren’t on the account and the bank could not legally inform them of the incident without violating the client’s privacy.”

As senior citizens get older, confusion and memory loss often set in, sometimes, but not always, as a precursor to dementia.  It’s important to take care of personal finances before they become unmanageable. That way, there won’t be an interruption or delay in payments that could make a difficult situation worse. It’s also imperative to appoint someone to take care of finances and health by executing a Durable Power of Attorney, a Healthcare Power of Attorney, and Living Will before further declines in mental health, which can lead to an elderly person being deemed “incapacitated” and no longer able to sign legal documents.

Many seniors rely on their bank account autopay service, but that doesn’t prevent errors or fraud, so Lasting Links offers a Financial Protection Plan.

“Setting up Autopay doesn’t protect you from financial abuse,” Perry explains. “In fact, it can allow financial hacking to take place for a long time without anyone noticing. You have to monitor funds coming in, not just going out.”

One service they offer as part of its Financial Protection Plan, SilverBills, allows all bills to be consolidated and paid on-time after being scrutinized for errors and fraud. Lasting Links monitors the accounts and provides the elderly person or a family member with one monthly report. Another service, EverSafe, monitors bank accounts, credit cards, credit data and investment accounts for signs of suspicious activity and fraud. The service issues “alerts” that Lasting Links follows up on for the client.

“Both services use AI,” Perry says of artificial intelligence checking for red flags such as unusual spending, missing deposits or other signs of fraud.

Perry also recommends TrueLink Financial, an online firm that offers a pre-paid debit/credit card that can be used by the family caregiver in various ways.  It can be given to the elder family member to use for incidentals, usually limited to a smaller amount, such as $500 monthly, or it can help monitor spending by a home healthcare aide who is buying food and medical supplies for the elderly person.

Most importantly, everything is tracked and you can block stores and types of purchases, Perry says, adding, “It shows what’s coming in and what’s going out. It’s a controlled environment. You need controls like that to eliminate checkbooks and bank and credit card statements lying around the house and easily used in financial fraud.”

Services range from $150 per month for a Financial Protection Plan, and consulting fees range from $100 to $250 per hour.  If there are family caregivers, even ones who are out-of-state, Perry and Flores will set everything up for that person to easily manage their loved one’s finances.  In other cases, Perry or Flores provide ongoing monthly services.

They’ve seen so much fraud, incompetence and contentious battles in guardianship cases that Perry urged Flores to take the test to become a Professional Guardian, which she did.

Lasting Links’ goal is to reduce the number of seniors needing to enter the guardianship system, an often long and costly court process that can be ongoing even after death — sometimes due to inexperienced or unscrupulous family members or guardians. However, Lasting Links does help elderly people already involved in the court process, and Flores can now step in as a Professional Guardian.

“Guardianship is a last resort,” Perry says. “We try to intercede before the guardianship petition is filed and try to find another solution. But it’s a problem in Naples because there are a lot of people who are alone and have no one.”