Protecting Seniors & Disabled Loved Ones Against Financial Abuse

At present, there are 3.2 million Texans (12% of the total population) who are age 65 and older. By the year 2050, that percentage is expected to rise to twenty percent (20%). Our state also has an unusually large number of disabled citizens – close to 11.7 percent of our population fits into this category.

All these individuals are at a higher risk of being financially abused than others. Furthermore, a highly regarded MetLife Study found that the annual cost of elder financial abuse equals about $2.9 billion – and that number would be far higher if we added in the losses incurred by the disabled population

For this reason, all honest adults should do whatever they can to help their older family members and friends protect themselves against being defrauded of their money and possessions.

Defining financial abuse – and noting who most often commits this type of crime

Before reviewing how the elderly and disabled can protect themselves against financial abuse and scams, it’s important to define “financial abuse” more precisely. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, this type of abuse involves the improper or unauthorized use of an older person’s resources for the wrongdoer’s personal profit, benefit or gain

Sadly, ninety percent (90%) of those who commit fraud against the elderly (and disabled) are already people known to them. A February 2018 article published by AARP entitled, “Fraud in the Family,” provides highly useful information on this topic.

Financial safety tips to share with the elderly and disabled regarding financial fraud

  • Each person should put together a small “team” of professionals who will help them manage their funds – and meet with them every few months for this purpose. This team should include two or more of the following individuals.
  1. A reputable Houston estate planning attorney
  2. A highly trusted family member – or friend
  3. A geriatric (or disability) case manager, social worker or therapist
  4. A bonded accountant or bookkeeper

           Advise your elderly or disabled friends to meet quarterly with their small group – and

           make sure their Durable Power of Attorney, Advanced Directive for Healthcare and other

           legal documents clearly indicate that no major life decisions should be made without the

           added input of the individuals named within those documents;

  • Always confer with others before making any major purchases, sales or life decisions. Never rush into to making any new financial investments or decisions about moving into a new home or senior care facility;
  • Keep important items either in a desk or safe at home. Put copies of the person’s Will and all other estate planning documents in their desk at home – making sure that at least one family member or close friend knows where they can be found in case the person becomes suddenly ill. It’s also wise to place all blank checks and major credit cards in a locked safe at home – and only take them out on days when they will be needed to make purchases. These actions can help the senior or disabled person greatly minimize chances of fraud and identity theft. All older bills and bank statements should always be shredded;
  • Never accept any phone calls from strangers. If the person accidentally takes a call from someone they don’t know and is asked to make some type of donation, tell the caller donations or only made by check – and only in response to a written request received by mail. Never, ever give out any bank or credit card information over the phone to such callers;
  • Seniors and the disabled should always ask a family member or friend to help them run a comprehensive background check on anyone them would like to hire as a caregiver in their home or current residence;
  • All routine bank and investment statements should be reviewed with a family member, a bonded bookkeeper or a trusted close friend. Any suspicious withdrawals from such accounts should be reported right away;
  • Consider having all credit reports frozen if any unauthorized credit card accounts are opened in the person’s name. Also, find out which type of fraud alert or security watch program is best suited to daily monitoring all larger financial accounts;
  • Never readily make gifts or loans to family members or friends – especially if they are currently battling drug or alcohol addictions. Ask other people to help address this problem;
  • Finally, advise the senior or disabled person to create a workable monthly budget, allowing for unexpected medical fees and limited travel and entertainment expenses.

If you or a senior friend or disabled person need additional advice and help with these issues, please contact one of our Murray Lobb attorneys. We would be happy to answer any questions you may have concerning this topic.

How Wage Garnishment Laws Affect Many Texans

Although wealthier Texans may build up significant savings and retirement accounts by middle age, most residents must keep working far longer to meet their individual and family needs. And if unexpected family or medical crises occur creating new financial emergencies, some people may face wage garnishments. Fortunately, Texas offers strong protection against many types of creditors.

Here’s a brief review of the most common types of wage garnishments pursued in Texas, basic terms you’ll need to know regarding this field – and references to special concerns you may need to discuss with your Houston business law attorney to fully protect your rights.

Important terminology related to attaching employee wages

  • Wage garnishments. In Texas, this term is often used interchangeably with “wage attachments” and refers to court orders directing employers to withhold certain amounts of money from employee paychecks to satisfy certain debts;
  • Administrative garnishments. These usually refer to federal government back taxes or student loans now in default – and they do not require a court order to be activated. Once debtors have student loans in default, they’ll normally be contacted by the U. S. Department of Education and told which collection agencies will be collecting their debts. (Note: Students loans can almost never be discharged by a bankruptcy filing);
  • Disposable earnings. This refers to the amount of money you have left in your paycheck after all mandatory deductions have been made for federal taxes, disability insurance, union dues, unemployment insurance, nondiscretionary retirement deductions, workers compensation and health insurance.

Types of debts often leading to wage garnishment

Texans are very fortunate compared to citizens of other states since Texas only honors a very limited number of garnishable debts.

  1. Unpaid child support and alimony (in arrears)
  2. Current court-ordered child support and alimony
  3. Government debts owed to the IRS (back taxes) — and all related fines and penalties
  4. Unpaid student loans (in arrears)

Note:  In light of Article IV of the U. S. Constitution, Section I (requiring each state to honor the “public acts . . .  and judicial proceedings of every other state,” certain other limited creditor debts referenced in judgments obtained outside of Texas may also be garnishable.

Be sure to speak with your Houston business law attorney whenever you receive any notice of an order to garnish your wages.

Fixed garnishment limitations that benefit Texas debtors

  • Total amount that can be garnished (based on all court orders). This is equal to 50% of your disposable earnings;
  • Percentage allowed for tax debt. This varies, based on your current deduction rate, the number of your dependents and other factors;
  • Student loans. The Department of Education can normally only garnish up to 15% of your disposable income from each paycheck;
  • Spousal support. The most your wages can be attached for this obligation is either $5,000 or 20% of your average monthly gross income – whichever is less.

Priority of wage garnishment orders

Although unusual factors might be able to change the list below, employers must normally prioritize their payment of garnishment orders in the following manner.

  • Unpaid child-support
  • Spousal support
  • Back taxes
  • Student loans

Texas employers are not allowed to discriminate against employees with wage garnishments

This has long been a concern of many employees since handling wage garnishments can take up a considerable amount of an employer’s time. Texas doesn’t allow those with wage attachments to be treated unfairly when it comes to hiring, promoting, demoting, reprimanding and firing (among other actions).

How creditors can still reach your money – apart from using wage garnishment

Even if your wages cannot be reached, regular creditors can still gain access to your money by obtaining court orders to freeze one or more of your financial accounts – and place liens on certain types of real property you own.

Please contact our law firm with any questions you may have about the proper handling of court orders to garnish wages — or any other types of administrate tasks regarding employees.

Voters To Determine Whether Texas Changes Home Equity Lending Laws

Now that the Texas House and Senate have approved SJR 60 and its companion bill HJR 99, Texans must decide in November whether we should amend our state constitution’s home equity law provisions. Any changes to the state constitution require a voter-approved amendment. The proposed changes may benefit many borrowers and they would remove a prohibition that currently prevents agricultural homestead owners from seeking home equity loans.

Additional Changes Addressed by SJR 60/HJR 99

This joint bill is designed to accomplish several goals. One key objective is to lower the current three percent cap on fees that can be charged to borrowers initiating a home equity loan down to only a two percent cap. To achieve this change, the bill separates out from the cap such fees as property surveys, appraisals, title exam reports and state base premiums. This change is designed to help low-income borrowers and those needing loans in more rural areas.

This means that borrowers seeking home equity loans under $50,000 might currently see those added fees go over the three percent cap. However, if the cap is lowered and the other changes noted above are made, those same borrowers could probably avoid that problem. This proposed amendment would also increase the present loan-to-value ratio up to 80 percent (from its current level of 50%) on home equity lines of credit.

Consumers may also benefit from a new provision allowing them to refinance home equity loans that have already existed for at least one year. They could turn such loans into traditional mortgages if all required conditions are met. Those who wish to make these types of changes would be owed new disclosures clearly outlining the potential benefits that might be lost by making this change. Special time deadlines would also have to be met, making sure that each consumer clearly understands the full impact of converting the loan into a traditional mortgage well before the refinance closing date.

Recent Legislative History Regarding This Joint Bill

Back in 2015, Representative Richard Raymond of Laredo proposed a bill that addressed the three percent fee cap issue by removing specific third-party expenses from the cap. Although that bill failed to pass, it did raise awareness of these important issues.

Meeting Constitutional Change Requirements and Putting Matters to a Vote

The passage of these joint bills required a two-thirds majority vote in both the Texas House and Senate. Now that requirement has been met, it’s time to put this matter on the ballot so voters can make the final decision on November 7, 2017. Should Texas voters approve this amendment, the changes to our state constitution will take effect on January 1, 2018.

Should you have any questions about how you should initiate financing for your home or other purchases, please contact our office and allow us the privilege of helping you. We can also answer any other questions you might have about various contracts and lending practices.