From the Multnomah Lawyer - Bankers and Attorneys: Partners in Fighting Elder Financial Abuse

Here in Oregon, where the number of people aged 65 and older is projected to exceed 750,000 by the year 2020, few of our duties are more important than protecting elderly clients from financial abuse. The National Council on Aging points out that, whereas most younger people fall prey to scams using sophisticated anonymous technology, elder financial abuse still occurs via face-to-face or phone-based manipulation from a trusted person or someone who maneuvers their way in. And many cases go unreported every year. It is here, in identifying the warning signs of elder financial abuse, where bankers and lawyers can really step up to protect their clients.

Lawyers are mandatory reporters of elder abuse. ORS 124.050(9). You may be surprised to learn that bankers are not. Oregon recently made certain securities professionals mandatory reporters—but the statute exempts “financial institutions” including banks, credit unions and trust companies. Under ORS 124.115, bankers are permissive reporters.

So, why are bankers great partners in looking out for your elderly clients? Like attorneys, bankers are in positions of familiarity with their clients: they know their patterns, habits, and preferences with regard to their financial instruments. They occupy a place where they can easily spot disruption in those patterns, which is often a telltale sign of abuse.

Let’s look at a sample scenario. Your client, Dany, has been coming to you for periodic updates to her estate plan. She always comes alone, and she rarely makes changes beyond what is necessary. Recently, she came in for a meeting and brought a new “friend,” Jon. Soon, Jon is speaking up and making suggestions about amending Dany’s will. This is a change in the pattern of the relationship, which should raise a red flag for the attorney. Meanwhile, over at the bank, Dany breaks a longstanding pattern of regular and incremental cash withdrawals and begins to empty her accounts. This change in a pattern of behavior should be a red flag for Dany’s banker. The bank may even choose to delay a distribution to her if it suspects financial abuse (permitted under ORS 124.115). Both her attorney and her banker are well-positioned to recognize these warning signs because they know what their client’s typical behavior is. They are the best defense against such abuse to ensure that their clients are taken care of into the future.

Kali Jensen is a Trust Officer with Columbia Trust Company, an affiliate of Columbia Bank. Kali is a member of the Oregon State Bar. She can be reached at or 503.279.3155.

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