Thinking Ahead
When it comes to securities fraud, elder care and probate matters, attorney Debra G. Speyer steers clients in the right direction
by Glori Gayster


Three of hottest legal issues nowadays—securities fraud, elder law and probate matters—are rooted in a combination of economic and societal changes. Navigating such uncharted waters often requires the hand of a skilled attorney.


“The flailing economy has led to an increase in Ponzi schemes and attempts to fraud consumers,” says Debra G. Speyer Esq., principal at Speyer Law, which has offices in Bala Cynwyd and Philadelphia. “At the same time, as baby boomers age and generations are living longer, legal issues involving elder care and probate have been on the rise.”


Founded in 1990, Speyer Law concentrates its practice in the areas of investment fraud, elder law, probate and other areas that impact clients as they progress through life. When representing clients in these very personal matters, Speyer and her team are dedicated to a balanced approach, providing individualized attention, above-expectations legal expertise and aggressive representation.


Protecting against Fraud

According to Speyer, the first step in protecting against securities fraud is to know one’s investment team. Far too often clients spend more time researching the latest cell phone, a new car or an upgraded household appliance. “All are important decisions yet not in comparison to selecting an experienced and reputable financial advisor—someone who understands clients’ needs, risk tolerance and goals as a way to make proper investments,” she says.


Securities fraud can take on different forms, including infamous Ponzi schemes such as those brought to light in the Bernie Madoff case. Enticed by seemingly higher returns, investors continue to buy into the plan and hold steadfast longer with few payouts. Other such fraud involves negligence with intent. “In these cases, advisors consciously make incorrect investments on behalf of their clients,” Speyer says, “such as selecting high-risk investments inconsistent with one’s age, risk tolerance or other personal factors.”


Speyer shares the opinion that fraud is becoming more prevalent. “These plots rely on the innate trust people have when it comes to their affiliation with a group, including churches, synagogues and other associations,” she adds. “Advisors take advantage of members’ true bond and build upon that relationship.”


Despite the increase in investment fraud, Speyer says there are several ways to protect against it. First is to ensure the legitimacy of the financial advisor through research. “Clients can do this by checking the FINRA website,” she explains. “It provides information regarding the advisor’s history, past indiscretions or questionable activities.” One should also ask for references and check into the principal firm.


Other tips suggested by Speyer include carefully reading any and all financial documents, specifically those in which clients need to acknowledge their risk tolerance, objectives and assets.

“It is critical to make sure the paperwork matches expectations,” says Speyer. “Equally important is to review one’s statements. Are there unauthorized investments or purchases? Are there any major shifts?”


Speyer’s greatest piece of advice is if a client sees anything different or alarming, question it and see an attorney specializing in securities law. An experienced attorney will be able to dig deep and analyze the proper party to a claim—the firm, its principal, the clearing house, etc. Once a claim is filed, it can take 12 to 18 months to reach arbitration or mediation.


“This is a billion-dollar industry and an emotional issue,” she says. “People work all their lives and can lose everything. While senior citizens and older widows are viewed as more susceptible, everyone can be affected.”


A Good Fit

No one likes to think about getting older, but it is inevitable. It’s also something that requires preparation, so families should take time to ensure matters are in order. According to Speyer, when people reach 50 to 55 years of age, they should have four key documents in place: a will, financial power of attorney, health-care power of attorney and advanced health-care directive (a.k.a., a living will).


Although some “resources” are available through the Internet, there is far more involved than using online services to create such documents. There are complex issues that include nursing-home placement, Medicaid planning, living trusts and guardianships. Speyer also cites the difficult decision of selecting the right assisted- or independent-living facility.


“Each has a culture and families need to find a good ‘fit’ for a loved one,” she says. “For some, it is a matter of socialization. Others choose based upon a religious background. I work with families and geriatric case managers to set realistic expectations and place clients where they will be happy.”


Often initiated by one’s children, such planning can involve several visits to evaluate the list of accounts, assets and liabilities. These are areas that impact the entire family and should not be rushed, according to Speyer. A skilled attorney can help his or her clients think about the hard questions and address issues that are overlooked or never considered.


Closely linked to elder law are decisions involving probate. Who will administer one’s will when that person passes? Normally outlined in the will, the administrator is responsible for gathering the person’s assets and distributing them according to details set forth in the will. In the event no one is named, the next of kin becomes the administrator.


Speyer stresses the importance of selecting the right administrator and recommends having an alternative named as well. Things to keep in mind when making the choice: Does the person have the time to handle the estate? Do they have the financial acumen? Are they local? An experienced attorney will not only help process the documents but more importantly ask the tough questions based upon the individual situation. These issues should be addressed as one nears 50 to 55 years old and Speyer suggests reviewing the choice of administrator every five years or as needed. 


Online resources are available and may be viable in the simplest of situations. However, most families are filled with complexities. An attorney will guide people through the process, providing expertise in planning for the future and avoiding loopholes that can affect it. “I can think of many instances in which clients have tried to do everything on their own only to find that they end up spending more time and money untangling the situation,” Speyer shares. “I encourage people to do things right the first time.”


Speyer Law

Two Bala Plaza, Suite 300, Bala Cynwyd

Two Penn Center Plaza, Suite 200, Philadelphia



Glori Gayster is a freelance writer based in South Jersey.

Felicia Perretti is a freelance photographer based in Philadelphia.