This Man's Shocking Story of Elder Financial Abuse Will Make You Hug Your Grandparents
“I should preface this by saying that my brother has always been a sociopath,” Brian Litwak told me. “But I had no other choice than to trust him because the doctor had told him, but not me, that I was supposed to die in six months.”
A former teacher, he tells his tale in a nonchalant, matter-of-fact voice. At 78 he's wrinkled and pale, but his eyes still twinkle and his memory seems precise. I hear flickers of anger as he sits, cane in hand, in an armchair across from me.
He has reason to be upset.
Brian is a victim of the financial side of elder abuse. His younger brother, he tells me, stole thousands of dollars from him when Brian moved into an assisted living home in Tucson in 2003..
He came to Tucson from California with about $250,000 and ended up with $12,000. The money, which Brian earned over 33 years as a teacher, started to disappear after his brother was granted a power of attorney to take care of his health issues and finances.
Although his brother thought he didn't have much time left, Brian soldiered on. In 2008, he visited his technologically savvy son in San Francisco, who finally uncovered that Brian’s brother had lied to him about how much his California condominium had sold for (he thought it went for $139,000, he says it actually sold for $295,000).
"Feeling there was something wrong" when he returned to Tucson, Brian unsuccessfully tried to broach the subject with his brother. Things took a turn for the worse when he got a letter from Medicare that said that because he hadn’t paid his fees for five months and was suspended from the program. His brother, he said, had been neglecting these payments.
“That’s very scary for an old person, not to have medical coverage,”he said.
Brian is not alone. More than 500,000 adults will be abused or neglected annually, and that number is probably an underestimate because many people are likely too scared or otherwise unable to seek help.
This is especially concerning when you take into account that the elder population is rapidly increasing. By 2050, 20 percent of the population will be made up of people who are 65 and older, and the fastest growing portion of the population is people 85 and up.
Thankfully, Handmaker — the assisted living home where Brian lives — has a policy where if you’ve been living at their facility for at least three years and your money runs out, they don’t kick you out. Handmaker also doesn't look like your typical assisted living home. With long, wide hallways, tall ceilings and a plethora of windows, it almost has a university feel to it.
“Often times, people outlive their money because they live so much longer than they thought they would,” said Lori Riegel, the religious and cultural education coordinator at Handmaker. “In Brian’s case, it was for a different reason.”
When most millennials think of generational justice, what probably comes to mind is the need for society to look out for future generations. This is important, of course, but we also can't forget about our elders.
"Babies need certain things, and at the other end of the scale, we need certain things," Brian said. "It's becoming more prevalent because so many of us are living longer."
For Brian, taking his brother to court proved futile. Through a series of consultations, Brian said he was told that even if his brother did get convicted, "I would be 102 by the time I saw any of the money," he says. "Even I don't count on being here."
Brian lives on a fixed pension. Meanwhile, the price of utilities, rent, and food have all gone up.
But Brian isn't letting his financial woes keep him down. At the end of our conversation, he scoops up his cane, adjusts his Cal baseball cap, proudly rattles off a laundry list of things he's done today and announces that he's off to his physical therapy class.
Though his attitude is inspirational, he shouldn't have to have it. Generational justice isn't just for us — it's for Brian, and our grandparents, too.