Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Financial advisor gets 5 years for elder financial abuse

I'm attaching a link to a news story from Florida about William Abruzzino, who was apparently an attorney (American word for lawyer), financial advisor and insurance agent. He was in charge of the finances of Marlene Scippa, an elderly woman who was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. He stole more than $200,000 of her money and a judge sentenced him to five years in prison for doing so. Click here to read a much more detailed version of the story.

The impact on Mrs. Scippa, not surprisingly, is huge. Her ability to pay for the long-term care she needs is now threatened through no fault of her own.

I notice that the story quotes at least two of Mrs. Scippa's family members, those being her brother and her niece. I don't have all the facts, but it occurs to me to wonder why neither of them was acting as Mrs. Scippa's trustee instead of the jack-of-all-trades financial advisor. It appears from the story that Abruzzino became the trustee upon Mrs. Scippa's husband's death, meaning he would have been named as the trustee in the husband's will.

No doubt Mr. and Mrs. Scippa had their reasons for appointing their financial advisor as their trustee rather than family members. The reason might well have been pressure from Abruzzino. Mr. Scippa's estate was $1,000,000 and perhaps they thought this was too much for a family member to handle. Whatever the reason, a well-intentioned choice made in good faith went completely wrong.

I encourage anyone who feels they might not want to appoint family members as exexutors or trustees to look into using a trust company. The kind of fraud perpetrated by Abruzzino doesn't happen in trust companies. As they are owned and run by banks, trust companies are highly regulated by law and banking policies, and there is never any one person with access to sums of money. And it costs less than you think.

On a final note, the rules must be different in Florida than they are in Canada as Canadian lawyers are not allowed to give investing advice to clients. Of course that assumes Abruzzino knew and followed any rules.

2 comments:

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