Be our guest: Two Wisconsin bills to hit the floor will likely harm elders
By Scott Kissinger
Kissinger Law Office
Financial manipulation is a serious issue and an even bigger issue when it involves the elderly in our community. In Wisconsin there are two bills in the legislature aiming to protect seniors from financial abuse. They are SB 428 (AB 482) and SB 429 (AB 481). This sounds like a great idea, right? The pretense of these bills is to protect seniors from financial abuse. But in reality, these bills throw a competent person’s right to control their own finances under the proverbial bus and relieve the financial institutions from all liability when they make errors.
What does this all mean? Both bills will allow banks and securities firms to delay or refuse transactions on a customer’s account if they suspect elder abuse is taking place. The devil is in the details.
Did you know that a “vulnerable adult” in both bills is defined as anyone who is 60 or older? Think of all the people you may know who are 60 or older.
They claim a “vulnerable adult” is over 60 so that must mean that Oprah and Bill Gates are considered under this pretense. Are you kidding? If these bills pass, everyone over 60 will face the possibility of a bank freezing your account or refusing transactions that you legitimately create. You likely will face late fees, bounced check fees, service fees, and legal expenses to get the matter resolved. At the same point, the bank is held harmless, even if it makes a mistake that could cost you financially. It’s called “good faith” and the banks will certainly take advantage of this clause.
What is also wrong with this whole scenario is that both of these bills give great power and control over your finances to financial institutions, without requiring them to be trained at all on recognizing and handling elder abuse. This is a recipe for mistakes to be made that will cost seniors who are the customers of these institutions.
Did you know that your “Power of Attorney” documents can be ignored? SB 429 / AB 481 allows a financial institution to disregard your “Durable Power of Attorney” (DPOA) if they believe your agent is perpetrating financial abuse. Banks have a long history of refusing powers of attorney for flimsy reasons, so much so that a special law was put into place to require banks to honor powers of attorney. This proposed bill essentially guts that law and again holds the banks harmless for refusing to honor a power of attorney if they feel, even in error, that abuse is taking place. The bill puts the banks in control, instead of the people you trust.
Financial manipulation of vulnerable adults is a very serious issue. As a community we need to take the necessary steps to correct the situations that lead to abuse. Financial abuse at its core is about power and control, which an elder loses as a victim. Giving more power to the banks and taking it away from the elder, with no accountability by the banks, only increases this problem.
These bills must go back to the drawing board. You as a member of this community have the power to let our Wisconsin legislators know that these bills cannot be passed the way they are currently written. With some improvements, they could provide a real benefit.
As currently written, the potential to harm individuals who are competently going about their own business with their finances is too high.
You need to act quickly, call Senator Patrick Testin at 608-266-3123.