Comprehensive Planning. Lifelong Solutions.

Top Scams Targeting Seniors – And How to Avoid Them

By Hook Law Center

It’s no secret that the elderly are frequently the target of scams, financial abuse, and exploitation. A senior’s declining cognition may make it more difficult for him to distinguish between a legitimate phone call or e-mail and one designed to take advantage of him. Combine this with hearing or vision loss, and it becomes even less of a challenge for unscrupulous individuals to obtain and make use of one’s personal and financial information.

The United States Senate Special Committee on Aging recently issued its 2017 ranking of the top 10 scams targeting senior citizens, based on data collected through its Fraud Hotline from January 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016. The most frequently reported scams of 2016 were as follows:

  • IRS Impersonation Scams

Generally, the scammer will call an individual, pretending to be an Internal Revenue Service (IRS) agent, accusing the individual of owing back taxes and penalties, and threatening the individual with arrest, foreclosure, or deportation if immediate payment is not made.

  • Sweepstakes Scams

The scammer contacts an individual and informs him that he has won a lottery – frequently the Jamaican lottery. In order to “claim” his winnings (or to improve his chance of winning), the individual must pay a fee.

  • Robocalls/Unwanted Phone Calls

The scammer uses technology to dial large volumes of phone numbers and distribute pre-recorded messages to reach a broad audience of potential victims.

  • Computer Scams

The scammer contacts the victim by computer, poses as an employee of a technology company, and convinces the victim that his computer is infected with a virus. In order to get rid of the “virus,” the scammer convinces the victim to give him access to his computer, often in exchange for payment by wire transfer. Sometimes, the scammer obtains the victim’s passwords and uses them to access his financial accounts, as well.

  • Elder Financial Abuse

The Committee’s report defines financial abuse as the “illegal or improper use of an older adult’s funds, property, or assets.” It is often committed by a loved one or an agent under a power of attorney.

  • Grandparent Scams

The scammer calls a senior pretending to be a family member, often a grandchild, and asks for money to pay for an emergency (frequently a medical bill or legal problem).

  • Romance Scams/Confidence Fraud

A form of “catfishing,” this scam involves the fraudster creating a fake online dating profile, gaining the trust of the victim over a period of time, then requesting money to help out in an “emergency” or to allegedly visit the victim.

  • Government Grant Scams

The scammer contacts the victim, pretending to be from a “Government Grants Department” (which does not exist), and informing the victim that he or she will receive a grant after paying a fee.

  • Counterfeit Check Scams

The scammer sends the victim a check and instructs him to cash or deposit the check, then turn around and wire some of the money back to the scammer. For his trouble, the victim may keep a portion, he is told. The victim later learns from the bank that the check has bounced, and now he is liable for the funds wired.

  • Identity Theft

The Committee’s report categorizes several forms of “identity theft,” including online impersonation, actual theft of a wallet or mail, and illegal efforts to obtain a person’s identifiable information. Use of someone’s personal information to apply for a credit card is a common form of identity theft, as is filing an income tax return using someone else’s personal information, generally to obtain a refund from the government.

To avoid becoming the victim of these and other scams, exercise caution when you are contacted by someone you do not know personally or are not expecting to hear from. Almost all of the scams above involve someone else contacting you, either by phone, mail, or e-mail. If someone purportedly calling from your financial institution contacts you and asks for identifying information, hang up and call the institution back at a known, legitimate phone number to verify whether the call was legitimate. Avoid opening e-mails from unknown senders and clicking on links in e-mails unless you are absolutely certain that the e-mail or link is legitimate. Shred documents containing personal information such as dates of birth and Social Security Numbers, rather than throwing them away. Keep in mind that anything that sounds too good to be true (lottery winnings and free trips, for example) most likely IS too good to be true. And when in doubt, if you receive a phone call, piece of mail, or e-mail that doesn’t seem quite right, get the opinion of a loved one or an attorney before responding.

If you receive a suspicious call or message, contact the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging’s Fraud Hotline at 1-855-303-9470. For more information relating to each of the above scams, you may access the 2017 report online at

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Follow the Bears

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about the bears in Yosemite National Park?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is so interesting! The rangers at Yosemite now have a website in which the public can follow the location of black bears throughout the park. The bears are outfitted with tracking collars, and they can be followed as they go about their daily routines. There is a time delay, so industrious visitors cannot know where they are in real time, but you can see them doing a lot of things like climbing 5,000-foot canyon walls, foraging for food, etc. There are approximately 500 black bears in Yosemite.

The reason behind the tracking system and website is twofold—one is to satisfy the public’s curiosity about the bears, but secondly, and most importantly it is to give the rangers and the public information about the bears. With more than 5 million visitors to the park last year, rangers hope the public will be more aware how to interact with bears—slowing their driving in places bears frequent most and properly storing food at campsites. Last year alone, 28 bears were hit by cars, and for some, it was a fatal encounter. Ryan Leahy, a wildlife biologist at the park says, ‘It’s our responsibility to keep bears wild.’ Another expert, Jesse Garcia, a black bear specialist from the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, says, ‘You’ve got to give them their distance and always be aware, knowing that they’re there.’ In other words, visitors are encouraged to enjoy the bears, but at a safe distance for both parties.

The tracking system has resulted in learning more about black bears, which in Yosemite, tend to be more of a brownish color. One of the things they have learned is that mating season begins in May, about a month earlier than previously thought. Continued monitoring will help us learn more about these powerful, yet beautiful animals. (By Associated Press, “Keeping track of Yosemite’s busy bears,” The Washington Post (Kids Post), April 4, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Tuesday, April 25th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Selling Real Property to Satisfy the Debts of a Decedent

By Shannon Laymon-Pecoraro, CELA

In Virginia, real property vests with the heirs of an estate unless the heirs are divested of legal title. As a result, it is settled law that unless a personal representative of the estate is granted an express power to sell the real estate of the decedent by Will, the personal representative must seek such authority from the Court. The Court will usually reserve granting such authority for good cause and is primarily granted when the assets of the estate exceed that value of the debts of a decedent

The personal representative of an estate (could be termed an Administrator or Executor) has a fiduciary duty to fully administer the estate of the decedent. In doing so, the personal representative must ensure that the debts of the estate are paid. When an estate is insolvent, there is a particular order in which such debts may be paid. A failure to pay the debts in the order prescribed by the Virginia Code could result in the personal representative being held personally liable for the debt

Specifically, when the assets of the estate are not sufficient to satisfy all the debts, the debts are to paid as follows:

  1. Costs and expenses of administration;
  2. Allowances afforded to a surviving spouse or dependent child under the Code of Virginia;
  3. Funeral expenses not to exceed $4,000;
  4. Debts and taxes with preference under federal law;
  5. Medical and hospital expenses of the last illness of the decedent, including compensation of persons attending him not to exceed $2,150 for each hospital and nursing home and $425 for each person furnishing services or goods;
  6. Debts and taxes due the Commonwealth;
  7. Debts due as trustee for persons under disabilities; as receiver or commissioner under decree of court of the Commonwealth; as personal representative, guardian, conservator, or committee when the qualification was in the Commonwealth; and for moneys collected by anyone to the credit of another and not paid over, regardless of whether or not a bond has been executed for the faithful performance of the duties of the party so collecting such funds;
  8. Debts and taxes due localities and municipal corporations of the Commonwealth; and
  9. All other claims.

Only after the debts are fully satisfied are beneficiaries of the estate entitled to benefit from the estate.

Since the problem usually arises with a decadent who owned real property that has vested with a beneficiary and there is just not a sufficient personal estate to satisfy the creditors, the Code of Virginia specifically provides that real property must sold when the personal property is insufficient to do so.

To enable a personal representative with the authority to engage in the sale of real estate, the personal representative, unless there is an express direction of sale under a Last Will and Testament, will often need the cooperation of the heirs and/or the granting of the power to sell the property. The Court, in granting such authority, divests the heirs of legal title and grants full authority over the property to the personal representative.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Affectionate Cats

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, are cats naturally affectionate, or do they tend to be aloof?

Kit Kat:  Well, according to some new research, cats really are naturally affectionate. Here’s what the latest research says. We have Oregon State University (OSU) to thank. In OSU’s own publication, Behavioral Processes, it was reported that cats frequently choose love from their parents over food. Dogs and tortoises were previously studied, so the researchers decided it was time to focus on cats. One researcher said, ‘Increasingly cat cognition research is providing evidence of their complex socio-cognitive and problem-solving abilities. Nonetheless, it is still common belief that cats are not especially sociable or trainable. This disconnect may be due, in part, to a lack of knowledge of what stimuli cats prefer, and thus may be most motivated to work for.’

In the study, a total of 50 cats (some from shelters, some were pets) were examined. They isolated the cats for a few hours from all stimulation such as human interaction, playing with toys, or being given food. After the deprivation period, the cats were given the option of interacting with humans, playing with toys, or eating. Only 37% of the cats chose food. Most of those opting for contact were quite content with chin rubbing. To top it off, they found no difference between the shelter cats and pet cats. These results confirm what my parents have long known. The 5 cats in our house love our parents, and miss them terribly when they go away. Someone comes in and feeds us and clean our litter while they are away, but it’s not the same. Even if they are gone one night, when they come back, we cuddle up to them with purring, and they, in turn, pet us to our hearts’ content! (Kelli Bender, “Study: Your Cat Probably Loves You More Than It Loves Food (Take that, Dogs!), People, March 28, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, April 17th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Early Signs of Dementia and What to Do About Them

By Hook Law Center

The Alzheimer’s Association’s website,, has a page devoted to 10 Early Signs and Symptoms of Alzheimer’s. I commend the site to your review, especially if you are trying to figure out whether you have dementia or just age-related memory changes. Particularly for those of us who have a relative who has struggled with dementia, it always a concern when things get forgotten. Among the signs that could signal dementia are:

  • Memory loss that disrupts daily life, especially recently learned information;
  • Challenges in planning or solving problems, like following a familiar recipe;
  • Difficulty completing familiar tasks at home, work or leisure, like how to drive to a familiar location or remembering the rules of a favorite game;
  • Confusion with time or place, like losing track of seasons or the passage of time;
  • Trouble understanding visual images and spatial relationships, like difficulty reading or judging distance, the latter of which may manifest as trouble driving.
  • New problems with words in speaking or writing, like having trouble following a conversation, stopping in the middle of a conversation and repeating themselves, or struggling with common vocabulary and calling thing by the wrong name;
  • Misplacing things and losing the ability to retrace steps, like putting eyeglasses in the freezer;
  • Decreased or poor judgment, like giving large amounts to telemarketers or losing track of cash, or like paying less attention to personal grooming;
  • Withdrawal from work or social activities they used to enjoy; and
  • Changes in mood and personality, like becoming confused or suspicious or anxious.

If you or a loved one is experiencing one or more of these symptoms, your first step should be to contact your physician and schedule an appointment to discuss what you are experiencing. If early dementia is diagnosed, early intervention may provide some symptomatic relief and allows a longer period of independent living. Your second step should be contacting an elder law attorney.

When someone receives a dementia diagnosis, the entire family goes through stages of shock and fear about the future. However, contact with an experienced elder law attorney, like the attorneys at the Hook Law Center, can help the family through this stage with proper planning. It is vital that planning be done before the disease becomes so advanced that the patient loses their capacity to sign the documents necessary to implement a plan.

One component of any plan will be reviewing and updating necessary estate planning documents. In addition, it is likely that general durable powers of attorney and advanced medical directives may need to be updated or created. These latter two documents are extremely important when diseases like dementia are in play because as the disease progresses, the natural course will be that the patient likely loses capacity at some point before death. In that situation, it is important that agents be appointed and empowered to make the decisions necessary to carry out the patient’s wishes, implement a financial plan and to protect assets. For clients who may need to rely on public benefits to help pay for care in the face of a dementia diagnosis, it is extremely important that existing powers of attorney be reviewed to ensure that the powers necessary to implement an asset protection plan are specifically granted to the agent in the power of attorney. For most people who have created powers of attorney when younger and healthier or without an eye towards public benefits planning, their powers of attorney do not contain the powers necessary to implement all of the asset protection and eligibility strategies that can be employed.

A second component of any plan will be reviewing the overall financial health of the family to determine how the family plans to pay for care when it becomes necessary. We will look at all avenues to assist in paying for care. We will discuss care at home and care in a facility. We will discuss the feasibility of maintaining the family in their home from both the patient’s perspective as well as that of the caretaker. We will discuss all the options available, including private pay and governmental benefits. When it is still possible for everyone in the family to understand and materially participate in the formation of a plan of care is the time to make the plan. By understanding the options available and how best to achieve your financial goals, we can relieve much of the stress and fear that comes from facing an uncertain future.

Unfortunately, dementia is becoming a more common diagnosis as our population ages. But the fear of running out of money and not being able to afford care should not be thrown on top of your other concerns. Make an appointment with one of the attorneys at the Hook Law Center and let us help relieve your mind by developing a plan that works for you.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Pesky Penquins

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about raising Galápagos baby penguins?

Kit Kat:  Well, in some ways, it’s just like raising human children. Let me explain. Galápagos penguins are the only penguins which live north of the Equator. They are considered endangered, because only around 2,000 remain in the world. That said, their parents when raising offspring, referred to as fledglings when they are old enough to hunt for food by themselves, can be quite generous. Parents feed their young by throwing up food they have partially digested into their offspring’s mouths. In a video recently recorded by researchers from the University of Washington, one parent penguin had just finished feeding its fledgling when the youngster kept following the parent and begging for more. The parent became so frustrated, that it just dove into the water to escape! Sound familiar? When kids just become too demanding, sometimes the best thing for parents to do is to bow out of the situation.

Anyway, parent Galápagos penguins and offspring live close-knit lives. They stay close to their birthplace throughout their lifetime. They usually are very generous with their offspring, especially if food is plentiful. When food is scarce, they tend to look out for themselves. Dee Boersma, professor of biology at the University of Washington, comments ‘When conditions are good, they can raise two chicks in a season and continue to feed them (even when they are fledglings and can feed themselves). When there’s little food around, they save themselves, forgetting about both eggs and chicks.’ Oh well, what can you say? It’s definitely survival of the fittest and nature’s way of ensuring continuance of the species. In the end, parent penguins are doing the best they can. (Nicholas Bakalar, “Even Penguins Have Children Who Won’t Leave the Nest, “ Science, The New York Times, March 20, 2017)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, April 10th, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.

Healthy Aging in Hampton Roads: The Future Looks Bright!

By Hook Law Center

Due to advances in healthcare and improved assistive devices, many Americans are healthier in old age and are living longer. The population of Americans over 65 has increased by approximately 30% in the last decade and is projected to continue increasing at a significant rate for the foreseeable future. So how is our region growing to accommodate the needs of an increasing older population locally? The answer appears to be best illustrated in steel, cement, and glass that is appearing (or is scheduled to appear) throughout the region.

In Norfolk many improvements are providing benefit to residents of all ages, including those in or nearing retirement. If you take a drive around downtown Norfolk you will see numerous apartment buildings that have sprung from the shells of old buildings, offering living options in an area that formerly had limited housing stock. An accessible new library was recently completed and the courthouse is on phase two of construction, respectively. If you open your ears you hear the soft “ding” of the light rail as it approaches. Look up on Granby Street and you will see lighted archways at night, providing much better illumination than in previous years. These features have made downtown much more vibrant generally but also more accessible and livable to those 65 and older. Further west down Norfolk’s southern waterfront a new senior living residence tower is planned, which will offer expanded inventory for those who wish to downsize into a community that can accommodate care needs.

The new construction in Norfolk is illustrative of broader changes happening throughout Hampton Roads. Construction and expansion of current care facilities throughout the region has been joined by increased independent retirement homes popping up in Suffolk, Virginia Beach, and elsewhere throughout the region. Soon, a new Veterans Administration facility will be here to provide assistance to our veteran population in Hampton Roads with significant care needs.

A major concern for many seniors is transportation and here technology and new developments are also leading the way. Phone applications like Uber and Lyft have made it unnecessary for many to have a car, including seniors. Furthermore areas like downtown Norfolk, Town Center, the Oceanfront, Old Town Portsmouth, and others are readily walkable and do not require a car for everyday needs. Many of our clients are choosing to sell their cars and find that they (and their family members) are relieved that driving is no longer necessary and car maintenance is a thing of the past.

Medical innovation and improving in-home care are also improving the quality of services to the disabled in our community. E-health and telemedicine are becoming more prevalent, which allows doctors to provide nearly 24/7 access to patients. Despite the trend away from house calls there are physicians in the area who are willing to meet with patients in their home. Also, families can now take a more “hands on” approach to managing in-home care providers (such as nurses and care assistants), even if they live out of the area. Modern technology provides the opportunity to coordinate what used to be a job that could only be done on-site. Additionally, tax withholding and other administrative tasks are increasingly be assisted by care agencies themselves, or online vendors, which helps families avoid common missteps seen when employing in-home caregivers and other employees.

In addition to new buildings, transportation options, and medical services, the growing senior population has given rise to more social, charitable, and special interest groups geared to that population’s needs. There are charities that match companions with individuals in assisted living and nursing facilities. Social groups for seniors allow the forging of new friendships and connections later in life. These connections provide vastly improved social wellbeing for many of our clients who have lost friends or spouses.

At Hook Law Center our staff and Elder Law attorneys constantly try to keep up with all of the new developments benefitting our clients. As you can see these developments are often not legal ones. By taking a holistic approach to the needs of our clients we feel our clients’ plans are better coordinated for their benefit.

Kit KatAsk Kit Kat – Western Ferrets

Hook Law Center:  Kit Kat, what can you tell us about ferrets returning to the Western prairies?

Kit Kat:  Well, this is a success story! As recently as 1981, the ferret was thought to be extinct on the Western prairie. Once they roamed from Saskatchewan to the Mexican state of Chihuahua. However, in 1981 one was discovered on a ranch in Wyoming. It had been found dead by the owner of the ranch, but Allen Hogg was a ferret devotee, his devotion instilled in him by his mother. Hogg immediately contacted the Wyoming Department of Game and Fish. They sent a horde of researchers and field technicians. They were ecstatic to find 100 ferrets living on Hoggs’ Lazy BV Ranch and its neighbor, the Pitchfork Ranch. Ferrets are carnivores whose favorite meal is the prairie dog. Ferrets can’t live without them being in close proximity. They live in the tunnels that prairie dogs have created and only venture out at night. Their telltale green eyes alert you to their presence. When ranchers started eradicating the prairie dog because they were consumers of the same grasses they wanted for their cattle, the ferret declined quickly.

So back to the ferrets’ reappearance in 1981.Things were going well until both prairie dogs and the ferrets started to die from disease. It turns out prairie dogs are susceptible to fleas which carry sylvatic plague, the same plague that killed so many in Europe in the Middle Ages. Without their food source, the ferret could not survive. The ferret, in turn, is susceptible to canine distemper, a deadly illness. The combination of the 2 maladies reduced both populations. By 1987, there were only 18 ferrets left. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service decided to intervene and breed the ferrets in captivity, while others worked on the disease problem. The plan worked– in 30 years, 8,500 kits have been born. They are then released into the wild. Trial and error has resulted in the ferrets being vaccinated against the plague, and the prairie dogs receive protection through insecticide scattered in their burrows. It’s not 100% perfect, but it has increased the survival rate. In addition, ranchers now have an incentive to let the ferrets thrive in the wild. Rule 10 J of the Endangered Species Act protects landowners from culpability if a protected species, like the ferret, is accidentally harmed on their property. It’s good for all parties involved, and we Americans get to enjoy the lovely ferret once more. (Scott McMillion, “Return of a Ghost,” Nature Conservancy, Spring 2017, p. 36-41)

Upcoming Seminars

Distribution of This Newsletter

Hook Law Center encourages you to share this newsletter with anyone who is interested in issues pertaining to the elderly, the disabled and their advocates. The information in this newsletter may be copied and distributed, without charge and without permission, but with appropriate citation to Hook Law Center, P.C. If you are interested in a free subscription to the Hook Law Center News, then please telephone us at 757-399-7506, e-mail us at or fax us at 757-397-1267.

Posted on Monday, April 3rd, 2017. Filed under Newsletter.
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Ask Kit Kat: Pet advice and wisdom as Kit Kat sees it.