CARLSBAD — Jeffrey Herbst has been a general practice attorney since 1979 as well as a court investigator of conservatorships for the probate division of the San Diego Superior Court.
He’s also a member of the San Diego County Fiduciary Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), chaired by Adult Protective Services (APS), a multi-disciplinary group that meets to discuss prevention, intervention and prosecution efforts in elder financial abuse cases.
Last month Herbst launched an “Ask an Attorney” service at the Carlsbad Senior Center where he provides free legal consultations.
“I’m a senior and I felt like giving back,” he explained. “So far, I’ve been surprised by the response.”
The 30-minute consultations are held the third Tuesday of the month in room 120 at the center at 799 Pine Ave.
Consultations are scheduled on the half-hour between 10 a.m. and noon, and again between 1 and 3 p.m. The event is opened to seniors over the age of 50 and is not limited to Carlsbad residents.
According to the National Council on Aging, financial scams targeting seniors have become “the crime of the 21st century.” One of the most widespread examples is the “Grandma-Grandpa Scam.”
“Someone calls and pretends to be a grandchild saying, ‘Grandma, do you know who this is? I am in a foreign country and had my wallet stolen and don’t want my parents to find out,’” he explained. “Invariably, this results in sending money through Western Union.”
Herbst also cautions seniors about the need to be aware of two-person teams coming to the door claiming to represent the water or utility company.
“They may say that you have a leak,” he said. “They’ll try to talk themselves into your home. Afterwards, one person keeps the homeowner occupied while the other goes into the bathroom looking for drugs, or the bedroom trying to find cash.”
Herbst explains that seniors frequently fall prey to two categories of criminal abuse: financial and physical. Financial abuse involves someone taking control of their money or getting them to sign over deeds. This can even include caregivers.
“Caregivers aren’t licensed in California so anyone can be one,” he said. “Often it can be a friend-of-a-friend, which is cheaper since agencies are bonded. Sometimes a caregiver isolates the senior from the family and gets involved in money.”
Physical abuse, he explained, is not assault and battery, but negligence.
Herbst’s job as an investigator is to protect the welfare of the client by making sure they visit the doctor and take their medication. They must also be able to move safely throughout their living space with or without a cane. This requires investigators to recognize a potentially dangerous hoarding situation, which can obstruct the path and increase the chances of a client falling and sustaining an injury.
“Sometimes the person living and caring for the senior can be the one doing the hoarding,” he said. “They move in because the senior can’t take care of themselves or their finances. They don’t realize they could be endangering them.”
At his first “Ask the Attorney” event in July, Herbst said some of the more frequent questions related to completing legal documents (advance directives; durable power of attorney) as well as homeowner association (HOA) issues and problems their children may have such as credit card debt.
“For a lot of people it’s very traumatic to go into an attorney’s office,” he said. “Maybe it’s the effort to call and book an appointment or they think it will cost a lot of money.”
In addition to free consultations once a month, Herbst will present a hands-on, interactive seminar from 10 to 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 26 regarding the most frequent scams perpetrated on seniors, how to avoid being scammed and what to do if you have been scammed.
“From my very first meeting with Jeff, his gentle nature laced with his comprehensive knowledge of the legal system was apparent,” said Patti Gebel, activities coordinator, Carlsbad Senior Center.
“The senior center is certain he will be a true asset to our existing services.”
Reservations to meet with Herbst can be made by calling the front desk at (760) 602-4650.