Financial abuse of the elderly remains a persistent and troubling problem in our country. The National Council on Aging estimates that financial elder abuse and fraud cost seniors at least $2.9 billion annually. The State of California has strong legal protections for the elderly, including for their finances. If you suspect that an older parent or other relative has been or is being financially exploited, it’s important for you to take legal action. The attorneys of Loew Law Group are experienced in all aspects of financial elder abuse – whether committed by strangers, caregivers, friends, or even family members – and will work with you to hold any responsible parties accountable.
What Is Financial Elder Abuse?
Financial elder abuse occurs when an elderly person’s money, assets, or property are stolen, mismanaged, or taken by fraudulent or coercive means. More specifically, California Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.30 defines “financial abuse” of an elder or dependent adult as when a person or entity:
(1) Takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both
(2) Assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both
(3) Takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains, or assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining, real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult by undue influence
The law also requires that the person or entity charged with financial elder abuse either knew or should have known that the conduct at issue was likely to have harmed the elder or dependent adult. California’s statute protects elders (any individual aged 65 years or older) as well as dependent adults. A dependent adult includes (among others) persons aged 18 to 64 whose physical or mental abilities have diminished because of age or for other reasons.
We often think of financial elder abuse as directly taking money or possessions from the victim. But the statute covers any act that deprives an elderly person “of any property right, including by means of an agreement, donative transfer, or testamentary bequest, regardless of whether the property is held directly or by a representative of an elder or dependent adult.” This may include an improperly procured “gift” or even an unfair agreement that may harm the elder.
Examples Of Financial Elder Abuse
Below are some examples of financial elder abuse, and ways you can keep your parent or other relative from becoming a victim:
Theft. Sometimes the abuse is as simple as stealing directly from the victim. Strangers, nursing home staff, and even other elderly persons often see the elderly as easy prey. Muggings, robbery, pick-pocketing, or stealing from a wallet or purse happen all too frequently. An elder is not necessarily safe just because he or she resides in a nursing home or assisted living facility. Unscrupulous nurses or other staff members can just as easily steal from their victims’ rooms or personal effects. Frequently visiting an elderly person helps ensure that he or she is not isolated, thus diminishing the likelihood of theft. The elderly should also be encouraged to stay active within their communities, not to venture out alone, and to communicate any concerns to family members. Finally, it is often a trusted caregiver, friend or family member who may be improperly taking the elder’s assets for his or her own benefit – perhaps the most insidious form of elder abuse.
Telemarketing, Internet, and Other Scams. Con artists are constantly devising new ways to illegally and unethically convince people to part with their money. They, too, view elders as targets because many of them are simply unfamiliar with the latest forms of fraud. Internet scams are also typically directed at the elderly because of their perceived lack of familiarity with technology. If your parent or elderly relative use email or the internet, it’s vital that you warn him or her of phishing scams and other tricks used to commit identity theft and fraud. Remind him or her to always check out any individual, company, charitable or religious organization before handing over money, and to safeguard credit card, checking, and other financial information.
Threats and Manipulation. The elderly are often threatened, intimidated, coerced, or manipulated into handing their money, property, or assets to someone whom they would not otherwise. This often occurs with elders who are suffering from dementia, memory loss, or other mental impairments and diminished conditions. Knowing who your parent or relative is associating with, and ensuring that he or she openly communicates any concerns or fears to you, is essential to avoiding this common cause of financial elder abuse.
How Can A Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Help My Loved One?
There are criminal penalties attached to financial elder abuse in the State of California. But civil litigation may also be used to return funds or property that have been misappropriated. An elder victim may pursue a civil case to recover these assets or to punish the responsible party for their actions. As with any such case, there are technical legal rules that must be followed.
One of these is the statute of limitations, which sets a hard deadline by which to pursue litigation against a defendant. Generally speaking, there is a 4-year statute of limitations for financial elder abuse. This means that the victim, or his or her successors in interest, has four years from the time the abuse was, or should have been discovered, to file their claim. Bear in mind, however, that this is a general rule, and depending on the particular abuse there may be different deadlines. It is essential for the victim to act immediately upon learning that some form of financial abuse took place.
In addition to returning stolen funds, the law allows for the recovery of economic damages, pain and suffering, and punitive damages, among others. Tragically, family members often discover financial elder abuse only after the elder has died. In those cases, you may still be able to bring an action to recover wrongfully procured assets and ensure that the wrongdoer is brought to justice.
An experienced, aggressive litigator is essential to maximizing the recoverable damages and working to ensure that no one else will be victimized. In some cases, a family member or friend may be wrongfully accused of financial elder abuse, and would likewise need an effective advocate to protect his or her rights. Contact Loew Law Group today to speak with our dedicated team so we can get started with your case.