Filmmaker shares story of elder financial abuse to help others

A Connecticut film producer said she wants to share the worst thing that ever happened to her family so others can prevent a similar scenario.

Pamela S.K. Glasner of Glastonbury said her parents became victims of financial exploitation by a man who befriended them at a synagogue in Florida.

When Glasner’s mother passed away in 2011, Glasner’s only brother called their father’s nursing home in Florida to say he would now handle his father’s financial affairs, according to Glasner.

The social worker responded that he needn’t worry, because his brother was already taking care of them. “I don’t have a brother,” he responded.

The alleged perpetrator took hundreds of thousands of dollars from her parents, gaining power of attorney over her father, who had Alzheimer's disease, and becoming executor of her mother's will, she said.

Glasner said police didn’t investigate the case she presented. Lawyers she approached asked for money just to discuss the case.

“When somebody embezzles money from somebody, especially when someone is older, it’s very difficult to prove,” said Glasner.

In the end, Glasner said her family was left without means to cover her 91-year-old father’s medical care.

“My brother and I got to sit there and watch my father die slowly — and there was nothing we could do,” Glasner told a group of 40 seniors at an event at the Lymes’ Senior Center in Old Lyme this week. “It’s the money, but it’s not just about the money, and I know that none of you would want somebody you care about to have to go through what we went through. It was the most horrible thing I ever experienced in my life.”

Glasner decided to co-produce a documentary, “Last Will and Embezzlement,” about her experience. The documentary also features experts on financial abuse and commentary from victims, including actor Mickey Rooney. 

Co-produced and directed by Deborah Louise Robinson, the film has been shown across the country, including in Old Lyme, Waterford, Norwich and Old Saybrook this summer.

Experts say elder financial abuse is prevalent in today’s society with an aging population and often a higher concentration of wealth in the elderly. They say it’s essential for seniors to be financially prepared — and they will have additional recourse under a new state law effective Oct. 1.

Speakers in the documentary say many seniors have been raised to be trusting, or are facing isolation. They say the act by the perpetrators, often a family member or a new person who gains the trust of a senior, often goes unreported or unprosecuted.

Glasner said about 5 million seniors in the United States are financially exploited each year.

At Wednesday's event at the senior center, Diana Melville, a financial advisor, said the country has been in particularly unstable financial times with the mortgage meltdown and the great recession of 2008.

She said this climate of confusion creates a breeding ground for exploitation.

“People are confused, they’re fearful, they’re in their caves, and this is just a great breeding ground for these kinds of people,” she said.

The remedy, according to Melville, is for residents to prepare and get their financial affairs in order. She conducts monthly “financial health check-ups” by appointment at seven senior centers, including the Lymes’ Senior Center.

The speakers at the event offered tips, including giving power of attorney to two people, such as trusted children who can both keep an eye on the finances, or reaching out to a financial advisor or elder law attorney. 

Seeking to dispel "fallacies," David Parsons, a social work supervisor at the state Department of Social Services’ Protective Services for the Elderly, emphasized that when a caller reports concerns about a senior, the department is there to support the senior. 

"I'm here to protect you," he told the audience. "I'm here to find out what is going on in your life. I'm not here to scoop you up, move you to a nursing home and take away your house."

In cases in which people don't have family or trusted friends or have medical needs that make them unsafe at home, the department will work with them to determine what options are available.

Joseph Cipparone, an elder law attorney based in New London, said seniors that fall victim to financial exploitation can now either pursue criminal proceedings against an alleged perpetrator or bring legal action to recover the funds.

But a new state law that goes into effect Oct. 1 will offer additional recourse. The law, Public Act 15-236, will allow victims of elder financial exploitation to seek attorney’s fees and costs, as well as punitive damages. He said this “is huge” because it will encourage more attorneys to take on these cases.

The law also stipulates that a person found guilty will not “inherit or receive any part of the estate” after the victim dies.

Cipparone said the law is in response to national trends in elder financial abuse, and Connecticut is now catching up to other states with stricter laws.

The Lymes' Senior Center held Wednesday's program to help seniors identify if they are being financially abused, protect them from being exploited, and learn about available resources, said Director Stephanie Lyon.

She said the center offers programs throughout the year to educate seniors about fraud and financial scams.

Glasner said every time she shows the film, she experiences again the worst thing that happened to her family. But she said it’s wonderful at the end to see seniors crowding experts for their business cards and getting ready to create an action plan.

"I want them to walk out knowing what can happen to you if you don’t do anything, but I also want them to know the things to do to be protected and at peace,” she said.

More information on "Last Will and Embezzlement" is available at http://www.lastwillandembezzlement.com.

k.drelich@theday.com

Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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