May 28, 2019 FEATURED

Security for Seniors

By David Zachary Kaufman

I have trouble viewing us as “seniors” who need security advice, which is customized for us “older folk.”  So, let me start by advising you to do 2 things: Buy Gavin de Becker’s book “The Gift of Fear” and read it. Take it to heart. It’s a great book filled with good advice. Second, go to either BusinessBrawls.com or Karatelaw.com and download 101 Personal Security Tips for Lawyers and Other Professionals. Both are free. Help yourselves. I wrote them, and they are the distillation of more than 40 years of security experience. I hope you find them useful and hope even more that you will never need to test them out.

“Danger Will Robinson.

Something is happening here in Florida (and other states) that could affect every one of us who is a “senior.”  Apparently, there are professional “guardians” or “guardians de facto” (or any number of other names). They will take care of you whether you wish them to or not. In December, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune published a series of stories, The Kindness of Strangers, demonstrating that Florida's guardianship system ignores your basic rights. The news organization documented instances where guardians removed seniors from their homes and sold off their belongings to cover the cost of providing services. 

To avoid this, make your plans in advance, in writing. I know it’s uncomfortable. But if you don’t, somebody may do it for you, and I can guarantee that you won’t like it. Find a good estate and trust attorney, update your estate plans, and set up an appropriate Power of Attorney, Health Care Power of Attorney, Living Will and whatever else you need. Be sure everyone, including all your doctors and others, has copies. If you don’t, you could wind up in a very bad place that is difficult to get out of―remember, once you are found incompetent it’s darned difficult to be found competent.

If someone asks you to change your plans you should hear the famous “Warning, warning, danger, Will Robinson. Danger.” Don’t do it unless you are absolutely sure it is your own idea. I once had a case where a very elderly person, living with one child, suddenly disinherited the other surviving child. The elder swore up and down that it was a voluntary decision. It was—if you believe that a decision is voluntary if it is arrived at after weeks of begging, pleading, and caterwauling by the beneficiary. Unfortunately, the original attorney didn’t realize what was going on―even a private talk did not reveal what had happened and how much pressure was put on the elderly parent. I only determined what had happened after the lawsuit had been filed and we entered discovery. 

This leads me to another suggestion. Establish a presumption that any legal document not drawn up by your own lawyer is done under duress. Each state has a different way of doing this but consider it. Furthermore, establish a code word or phrase which can be used verbally or in writing to authenticate that the document was voluntarily prepared.  Make sure your critical people know what code word or phrase you are using.

Specific Suggestions for Seniors

Now on to more specific suggestions that have less to do with the law and more to do with practicalities.

  1. Consider setting up a code word you can use to ask for help (like "come get me") or to alert your special–trusted–person that there is a problem and you cannot talk freely. This can happen when you are being pressured to do something—anything―against your will.  If you decide to do this, consider using an innocuous phrase like, "I'm fine. Take care of yourself”

    Depending on your level of paranoia, a “code phrase” that is NOT used may also be a signal. In other words, if someone is holding you and telling you to read from a script, and you always end a conversation with "Take care of yourself" and you don't use it, THEN the person you are talking to knows you're in trouble.
  2. If you live alone, consider LifeLock or its equivalent so if something happens to you, help can be summoned. This system is also good for street safety: For instance, if you are mugged, you can get help immediately.
  3. The biggest problem we all have as we age is balance and strength. I use yoga along with my regular workouts to maintain and improve balance and flexibility. When you walk, practice good balance. Stand straight and tall. You don't have to walk quickly to make the point that you are not a victim. A nice smooth walk, even using a cane, will do.

    By the way, if you have trouble walking with one cane, try using two at a time rather than a walker.  It can take a bit of getting used to, but it can really help. I have done it several times when I was injured or recovering from surgery.
  4. Stay in well-lighted areas. That way you can see obstacles on the ground. Also, you can better detect those approaching in a hostile or menacing manner. When at all possible, walk in the center of the sidewalk; avoid walking near doorways, bushes, and alleys where possible. Never, ever walk between groups of people. It is too easy to be blindsided if you do.
  5. Always keep one hand free at all times. (Unless you are using 2 canes.) You may need it for support or balance. But you may also need it to protect yourself. (You can use your extra cane for defense.)

    By the way, the old meme of grandma smacking someone with her cane is still valid. Wooden canes can be a great weapon for self-defense. I don’t like the hollow adjustable ones because they bend
  6. If you must carry things, use a backpack, a sling bag, or a wheeled “briefcase”, etc. Do not use multiple briefcases, purses, etc. Don’t carry a briefcase in one hand, your purse under your arm, a cane, and a phone in your hand--that’s too distracting. Distraction is worse with two canes. You will almost certainly lose something. 

    Remember, keep at least 1one hand free at all times. Be prepared to drop your stuff and get away if you are attacked. Anything you cannot afford to drop should be securely fastened to your body (preferably hidden), and it should never hinder your ability to get away.  
  7. Don’t program “home” into your GPS in the phone or your car. Why? Because if your phone is lost or stolen (or someone steals your car) they can find out where you live and know you are not there right then. That’s an invitation to burglary (or worse).
  8. When using rideshare companies, be sure you are getting into the proper car. There have been recent newspaper stories of people getting into what they think is their Uber ride and being attacked. If you are not sure, wave them off and cancel the ride You are never obligated to accept a rideshare, even if requested by you. Do not get into a car if you do not trust the driver.
  9. When you go out shopping, watch for vans parking too close to the driver’s side door of your car. It is very easy for someone waiting in the van to open the sliding door and pull you inside unseen. If you think there is a problem, assume you are correct. Get a security guard to escort you to your car and have him/her wait until you are safely in the car and driving away.  Do not let them simply escort you to your car and then leave—something could happen before you get the car started and pull out of your parking space.
  10. If you are attacked and your attacker tries to force you into a car, even your own, do not cooperate. Resist. Being kidnapped never ever ends well for the victim. If you are forced into your car, do not forget that modern car trunks have release latches, so persons held in them can escape. Look in your trunk, and find your trunk’s escape latch. If you ever need it, you will be glad to know where the latch is located. If the latch has a loop, attach a brightly-colored sturdy cord or carabiner to locate it quickly in an emergency.
  11. Always look in the back of your car before you get in and do not fumble with your keys.  Have them in your hand or easily accessible. Do not keep your car your house keys on the same ring.
  12. Finally, if you live in a gated community or condominium, check their security. Are there cameras/recording device? Are they genuine, recording and maintained? How often is the recorded data stored and/or reviewed? Do you have security cameras on your front door? Other doors? Do you have alarms? I have a huge black dog who has alarmed my entire community when we had an intruder at 4:30 in the morning.

    If there is a security problem in your building or community, are you timely informed? If the problem is yours, make sure your security (if you have any) and other members of the community know about it.

Author

David Zachary Kaufman started law school at the GMU School of Law (now Scalia Law School) when he was 40 years old. Graduating in 1991, he worked briefly at a large law firm and then went out on his own in 1996, founding the litigation firm that eventually became the Kaufman Law Group, PLLC. David has been an adjunct professor of law at George Mason University School of Law and has practiced various forms of martial arts for over 55 years. As he winds down his litigation practice, he has increasingly been asked to testify as an expert witness in criminal and civil cases. He is the author of Qui Custodes, a blog of self-defense, 101 Personal Protection Tips, 101 Business Protection Tips, and wrote Workplace Security for Solo and Small Firm Staff, a chapter in the American Bar Association book Effectively Staffing Your Law Firm.  Kaufman also teaches several CLE/LPM classes each year on the subject of law firm security. A member of the Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia bars, he now lives in Sarasota, Florida.