Wise Counsel for Older Folks and the Rest of Us

As an attorney who counsels many hundreds of people a year with regard to their finances, I have the opportunity to learn from the experience of others. One of the trends I have seen in recent years is an increase in the frequency and severity of scams, schemes and fraud. The difficult economy has caused some people to seek returns that in fact are “too good to be true.” An explosion in communication and technology has allowed access to private information and to potential victims in unprecedented ways. Difficult times have brought out scaremongers who want you to move quickly to avoid a threat that may or may not exist, or that they may have created. I would urge you to move more deliberately to avoid disaster.

Seek Trusted Counsel Early and Often

In a world where you don’t know who is on the other end of the line, you can’t share information. I get a cold call from a person wanting to sell me securities at least once a week. Although it astounds me that anyone would give time or information to a stranger on the telephone, it happens everyday. Develop relationships with people you can trust. Ask for recommendations and check the backgrounds of professionals with whom you consult. Those who seek to take advantage of you want you isolated and ignorant. Surround yourself with friends and family you can trust. You would be amazed at how effective it can be to respond to an opportunity with, “I appreciate your time and once I have reviewed this with my attorney we may get back to you.” At this point you may be pressed or even ridiculed about not being able to make a decision on your own immediately. At this point, the person pressing you has probably shown their true colors. Do not give them information thinking the danger has passed. If they don’t understand “No, thank you,” discontinue the conversation.

Be Truthful and Forthcoming

It is natural to share only information that places us in a positive light. I tell the dentist I frequently floss and the dermatologist that I wear sunscreen, even if it requires a slight exaggeration. Once you have found trusted counsel, it is essential that you be honest with them. I have made plenty of mistakes and have no interest in criticizing past decisions on your part. As a professional, my concern is reliable information so that I can provide sound advice. In most instances, my attempts to excuse my past decisions only prolong the discomfort and are fairly transparent anyway. Step up, fess up and listen up! If the person you seek out for counsel is judgmental or wants to wallow in the past, seek advice elsewhere.

Pride Goes Before a Fall

As we get older we have every right to take pride in our accomplishments and the blessings we enjoy as a result of hard work and a life well lived. We also have the opportunity to develop a sense of our mortality and fallibility. Recognize that while we may be better at some things, we are less able to do some others as well as we once did. Honest self-appraisal will make us less vulnerable to those who would like to take advantage of us. Do not let your pride keep you from seeking advice. We are all in this together, and as I am increasingly fond of saying, “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

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