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Jewish World Review March 18, 2004 /25 Adar, 5764

Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

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Consumer Reports

Bad 'Will' makes seniors prey | Q: I heard about a new reality show planned by CBS called "The Will." A social worker friend of mine is upset about this show, saying it will lead to even more financial abuse of the elderly. Since you often write about senior-related issues, I was wondering what you thought about this upcoming program.

A: We have an opinion, all right. Billed as the latest in "reality" television, "The Will" is another brainchild of Mike Fleiss, creator of "The Bachelor." On that program, a would-be bridegroom whittled down a group of possible brides, one by one, until the last woman "standing" received a diamond ring and a marriage proposal.

According to the CBS Web site, "The Will" has been looking for folks with a "sizeable" fortune and a "substantial sense of humor" who are willing to participate in a TV series that would pit family members against one another to be named heir to the family fortune. People interested in being the benefactor can download an application, or tip off producers if they know of someone willing to give away his or her fortune on national television.

Given the increasing number of incidents of elder abuse in this country today, a program of this kind is dangerous to seniors. And we're not alone. Paul Greenwood, deputy district attorney and head of San Diego's Elder Abuse Prosecution Unit, was so concerned that he has sent a nationwide e-mail alert through an elder abuse listserv sponsored by the American Bar Association.

According to Greenwood, it's likely that the "benefactors" will be elderly. And, if the benefactors are sitting on a fortune, imagine the potential for mischief — or worse — as unscrupulous family members scheme before a national audience to convince the rich elder to leave the fortune to them, all in the name of good fun and ratings.

It's not uncommon, of course, for a gold-digging family member or stranger to befriend a wealthy senior citizen and become their new best friend. The older person might be lonely, and appreciate the attention. Then, before you know it, the "new best friend" or trusted family member has taken the elderly person to a lawyer and had the will changed, or has signed a new power of attorney that is used to lighten the senior's pockets while still living instead of waiting until death. Family members usually don't know about an elderly person's affairs until it's too late to do anything except fight the power of attorney or the will in court.

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Under the guise of "entertainment," we believe that if CBS decides to air "The Will," the program could give even more ideas to unscrupulous copycat viewers about how to prey on vulnerable elders. "Hopefully, CBS will decide that a will is not entertainment, but is an important legal document that can be used as a deadly weapon if it falls into the wrong hands," Greenwood says.

Adult Protective Services units have already written to CBS to protest "The Will" because of concern about the potential harm this program could bring. But, remember, that CBS is owned by Viacom, the same folks who bring you MTV — not Ozzie and Harriet, but Ozzie and Sharon. If they run this one, CBS can't blame Justin and Janet.

If you are concerned, we suggest that you contact CBS executives at 51 West 52nd Street, New York, N.Y. 10019, or you may wish to email your views to the program's casting department in California at

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JAN L. WARNER received his A.B. and J.D. degrees from the University of South Carolina and earned a Master of Legal Letters (L.L.M.) in Taxation from the Emory University School of Law in Atlanta, Georgia. He is a frequent lecturer at legal education and public information programs throughout the United States. His articles have been published in national and state legal publications. Jan Collins began co-authoring Flying SoloŽ in 1989. She has more than 27 years of experience as a journalist, writer, and editor. To comment or ask a question, please click here.


Bankrupt seniors now the debt generation
How can we help ease Dad's depression?
Compensating sister for Mom's care; purchasing life insurance policies from terminally ill individuals
My aunt profited from grandpa's weak will; foreclosing against senior is best
Pay employer taxes for caregivers?
Help Mom organize her finances
Where can seniors get the best health info?
How do we stop our mooching daughter?
Can you stop a double-dealing lawyer?; caregiver red flags
How the government bilks seniors
Dad's new wife took the inheritance
Parents' trustee choice a hidden blessing
Finding the money for home care
Elderly mom is sweet on a hunky aide
'Ziva' gets the scoop on nation's nursing homes
Care decisions for 'elder orphans'
Seeking help for dementia victims
Read admission-package 'agreements'; booting a patient once Medicaid kicks in
Can the kids block our cash flow?; childless couple agonizes over whether to use
powers of attorney or a living trust to manage our assets

Control your assets from the grave
Slacker son will blow his fortune; lawyer's role in "estate-planning"
Mom remarried and spent my inheritance; doesn't want daughter-in-law to receive anything from estate
Can we stop our brother from swindling us?
What Gifting Will Disqualify You From Medicaid
The 'magic' language for a power of attorney agreement
Is care insurance a healthy choice?
Is there protection against Medicaid costs?
Long-term care insurance comes up short
HIPAA -- too much privacy?; nursing home doc could care less
Private pay nursing home residents pay more
Separated families should use care managers
What Makes Up a Caregiving Team?
Who is the client, parents or children?:

© 2003, Jan Warner