California financial elder abuse is one of the fastest growing problems in our society. As the Baby Boomer generation ages, they become increasingly more susceptible to financial scams. But not all financial scams are done by strangers. All too often it is those closest to an elder who do the most damage. How do you protect an elder you know and love from this type of harm?
In California, financial elder abuse is defined as a “taking” of property from an elder. It can be an outright theft, or it can be more subtle. For example, the law includes receiving property from an elder through a Trust or Will as a “taking” if that gift was the product of the wrongdoer’s undue influence over the elder.
Undue influence is often hard to spot from an outsider’s point of view until it’s too late. The typical case will have a friend, neighbor, advisor, or child who goes from helping the elder to taking over the elder’s finances and care decisions to controlling the elder. It is this control that becomes dangerous because it allows undue influence to occur.
To protect an elder from undue influence takes vigilance. You have to pay attention to who is helping, how they are helping, and the way in which that relationship changes over time. Having a friendly neighbor get groceries is great. Having that same person write all the checks and block children from seeing the elder is bad.
In most cases, people know when things go from friendly to oppressive and controlling, they just don’t know what to do about it. The best advice is to take action quickly. You have to separate the elder from the bad actor. And then get legal help if necessary. The law actually provides a method to obtain an elder abuse restraining order. You also may have to institute conservatorship proceedings so the elder can no longer make financial decisions. Or take over as successor Trustee if the elder has a Trust in place.
The point is to act and act fast. There is no over-reacting in these situations. Undue Influence can go from bad to worse very quickly and the faster you act to prevent that type of abuse, the better you and your family will be in the end.