Elder Abuse Is Often about Money: How a Corporate Trustee Can Help

The circumstances can vary wildly, but the signs are often the same. An older person will have a health crisis, accident or just start to make strange decisions that alarm friends and family members. The impact on finances can be devasting in some cases, as trusted financial advisors are replaced by opportunists. Friends and family members often realize there is something wrong but are unable to do anything. It is during such times that a corporate trustee can step in to safeguard assets or make sure they are being used in a responsible way. Case in point: the story of 92-year-old Abigail Kawananakoa, “Hawaii’s last princess,” which was featured in a recent article in The Guardian. 

Last year, Abigail K. had a stroke. Her longtime attorney said she was no longer capable to manage her trust and finances. She promptly fired him, hired another lawyer and requested a new trustee for her assets. That led to a court hearing, after which the judge did the right thing: he named a local bank as trustee. Corporate trustees, such as LNWM, are often more capable of managing finances than friends, family members or new acquaintances.

What a Corporate Trustee Can Do

There are a number of incredibly complex issues in Princess Kawananakoa’s case, all of which we have experience navigating here at LNWM from the standpoint of a corporate trustee. When we become a successor, as the bank did in Princess Kawananakoa’s case, it is essential to look out for not only the intent of the trust, but how those assets impact the life of the beneficiary. This requires a deep understanding of the client’s mental capacity, and her/his physical health.

It also requires an acknowledgement of the vulnerability of the beneficiary, especially as it relates to physical and financial abuse. We rely on those close to the beneficiary and on our own observations, especially when we see big changes happening in their lives after an incident that has compromised their physical or mental well being. Then we partner with other experts to ensure their assets are being used for their benefit and not for the benefit of others if the trust is not intended that way.

Here at LNWM, it is not unusual for us to fly out to visit clients in person if their behavior and/or finances are indicating something is not right. I have gotten on a plane myself many times to go and see firsthand that things are OK. And if not, to figure out what the next steps are for keeping our clients and their money from parting ways.

We take the protection of our clients, their assets, and their peace of mind very seriously, and we advocate for our clients if we observe them to be vulnerable. That is the Laird Norton Way.

Jeanne Goussev
Jeanne Goussev
Jeanne is LNWM's Managing Director of Fiduciary Services. She excels at using trust and estate planning tools to help clients support what they care about -- be it their family, their legacy, their community.