This is a story that any professional working with seniors finds particularly abhorrent. An investigation by the New Jersey State Police and the Division of Criminal Justice uncovered a scheme by a New Jersey woman, her sister and several others—including an attorney—to steal millions from elderly clients they were supposed to be helping. The story was reported by New Jersey 101.5 in “NJ woman pleads guilty to scamming millions of dollars from the elderly.”
A New Jersey State Police investigation led to the indictment of Sondra Steen along with her sister Jan Van Holt. The latter was the owner of a company that offered elderly clients in-home care and legal financial planning. Two other employees pleaded guilty to taking part in the scheme and stealing $125,000 from an elderly couple. Van Holt and Steen were charged with conspiring with a lawyer to steal over $2.7 million from 12 elderly clients.
Van Holt would target potential elderly clients who were known to have substantial assets with no immediate family. They would be offered help through the company with non-medical services such as running errands, managing finances, getting to appointments, and housework. Steen would then serve as the client’s primary caregiver.
When they had gained the trust of these elderly clients, they would take control of their finances and add their names to bank accounts by forging power of attorney documents or using false pretenses to obtain control. They then stole from the accounts to pay their own expenses. If the victim owned stocks or bonds, they were cashed out and the funds were deposited into the account allegedly controlled by the defendants. The defendants would also name themselves as executors of the wills and then name Steen as a beneficiary. Authorities began investigating the alleged laundering after the state Office of the Public Guardian referred a case involving one of the victims to the State Police.
Barbara Lieberman forfeited $3 million in assets and her law license, while Steen pleaded guilty to first-degree money laundering. Charges against Van Holt and Hamlett are pending and Steen will be responsible for restitution as well.
Situations such as these are truly horrifying. However, by working with a reputable and qualified estate planning attorney years—even decades—in advance, you can ensure both your estate plan and your family will protect you and your assets in these situations. Continuing to partner with your family and estate planning and elder law attorney over time to adjust your estate plan as life changes can be an additional layer of protection.
For more on how Family Estate Planning Law Group works with clients on an ongoing basis, visit our website and contact us to schedule your consultation today!
Reference: New Jersey 101.5 (February 9, 2016) “NJ woman pleads guilty to scamming millions of dollars from the elderly”