What are the Signs of Financial Elder Abuse
Financial elder abuse is the theft, embezzlement, or misuse of money or other property belonging to someone who is 65 years old or older. It is typically committed through fraud, extortion, threats, or other forms of duress. In addition to draining the victim’s finances, the financial abuse of an elder can cause serious emotional harm to the victim as well as their family.
In many cases, financial abuse of an elderly person is not discovered until their death and the revelation in the probate of previously unknown changes in wills, trusts, or other instruments that rob rightful heirs of their inheritance.
The attorneys of Albertson & Davidson, LLP have helped hundreds of clients fight the financial abuse of elders in California and contest will and trusts to correct wrongs done through the exploitation of senior citizens. If you suspect malfeasance regarding a senior citizen’s financial assets, we can step in to help you and your family put a halt to theft, correct a fraudulent estate plan and ensure that assets pass to the rightful heirs.
Anyone with an elderly person in their life should understand what financial elder abuse is and learn to recognize the signs that it may be occurring.
Legal Definition of Financial Elder Abuse in California
- Under California law, financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult occurs when a person or entity:
Takes, conceals, misappropriates, obtains, or retains personal property of an elder or dependent adult for wrongful use or with intent to defraud.
- Assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both.
- Uses undue influence to obtain or assists in taking, secreting, misappropriating real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult.
Undue influence under California law arises when a bad-acting person employs excessive persuasion to overcome the elder’s free will and causes them to act in a manner that creates inequity, such as leaving all assets to one child at the expense of siblings.
Some elements of emotional abuse included in Financial abuse
- Threatening to abandon the dependent person or leave the person.
- Withhold food or medicine.
- Harm the victim unless he or she gives the perpetrator what he or she wants.
- Threat to put the elderly person in a nursing home.
- Persuade the elder that the abuser is the only one who will care for the elderly person and keep them out of a nursing home.
In California, any person who has assumed full or intermittent responsibility for the care or custody of an elder or dependent adult, regardless of whether he or she receives compensation, is required by law to report elder abuse of any kind if they witness it, suspect it or have been told about it by an elder or dependent adult.
Reports related to suspected financial abuse of an elder that occurred in any place other than a long-term care facility, a state mental hospital, or a state developmental center should be made to the local county Adult Protective Services agency or a local law enforcement agency. There are specific procedures for reporting elder abuse in long-term care facilities and other institutions, but any case of elder abuse may be initially reported to local law enforcement.
Common Acts of Financial Elder Abuse
Financial exploitation of the elderly takes many forms.
Often, financial elder abuse is perpetrated by someone the elderly person trusts and depends on, such as:
- Family members
- Friends and acquaintances
- Bank employees
- Clergy members
- Doctors or nurses
Acts of financial abuse that a trusted person might commit against an elderly person
- Misusing power of attorney provided by the victim to take control of the elder’s finances and steal assets
- Setting up a joint bank account(s) to take money from the elderly person
- Using the elderly person’s debit card, credit card, or checks to steal money, buy possessions, pay their own bills
- Forging the senior’s signature for financial gain
- Persuading the senior to change a will, sign over a deed for the bad-acting person’s gain or to give him or her money or personal property
- Charging for services, such as in-home care, shopping, yard work that was not performed
Common scams or fraud a stranger perpetrates against a senior citizen
- Lottery and sweepstakes scam – The elder is told he or she has won a prize but must send money for taxes or a processing fee.
- Grandparent scam – A caller claims to be the elder’s grandchild and in trouble in order to persuade them to send money.
- Romance scam – Perpetrators pose as interested romantic partners on social media or dating websites to capitalize on the elderly victim’s desire for companionship and gain trust and access.
- Government impersonation scam – The abuser poses as a government employee, such as a sheriff’s deputy, and threatens arrest or prosecution unless the senior pays a phony overdue fee, often through gift cards.
- Home repair cons – An individual claims to have leftover materials (roofing shingles, concrete for a driveway) from a job, which they can use on a project for the elder at savings. The work may be unnecessary and is done poorly if at all.
- Identity theft – Perpetrators obtain and use the elderly person’s name, address, Social Security number, Medicare card to establish credit cards or similar accounts, rent apartments, finance travel in the victim’s name.
- Online phishing – Email contains spyware or links that when activated allow the perpetrator to obtain information to facilitate theft.
- Tech support scam – An individual poses as a tech support representative and offers to fix nonexistent computer issues to gain remote access to the victim’s devices and sensitive information on them.
Scams that are more professionally organized may target the elderly with predatory lending, investment/security schemes, pyramid schemes, and annuity sales.
Signs An Elderly Person May Be Financially Abused
The first rule of dealing with a potential victim of abuse is to take seriously any allegations of mistreatment they make. You should investigate the allegations even if an elderly person retracts them. An abuse victim, particularly one who is dependent, is likely to be afraid of the person committing the financial abuse.
Often, the person who recognizes that an elder has been financially exploited is actively involved in the elderly person’s financial affairs.
Some Noticeable Warning Signs of Financial Abuse
- Complaints about being broke, unable to pay bills, or buy food from someone known to have assets or a stable income
- Unexplained or sudden losses, such as substantial amounts of money missing from accounts, the disappearance of personal property or services, repossession of an automobile, or foreclosure on a home
- Sudden changes in financial practices, such as mismanaging bills, hiding money, closing accounts, making expensive or excessive purchases, growing angry over talk about finances
- Unusual charges to credit cards, or the receipt of credit card statements for new accounts you do not recognize
- A family member or friend (often a new friend or companion) paying closer attention to an elder and receiving gifts of personal possessions or money
- Sudden and lengthy travel plans with a new companion
- Newly hired assistance with household chores or finances and changes or losses as described above
- An elder’s demonstration of fear, anxiety, or unease around newly hired assistants or others.
It may be difficult to talk to an elderly relative about their finances. Money issues are private, and their instincts may lead them to guard their privacy even if they are having problems. Abuse victims are often embarrassed to admit someone has taken advantage of them.
If you have evidence of an elderly person being financially exploited, you should gather copies of documentation and report the situation to authorities. If the individual or their estate has suffered significant financial harm, you should contact an elder abuse litigation attorney to help you recover stolen or embezzled assets and challenge a fraudulent will or trust and/or probate.
Contact Our California Financial Elder Abuse Attorneys
The financial elder abuse attorneys at Albertson & Davidson, LLP have a track record of successfully bringing financial elder abuse claims against individuals who have taken an elder’s or dependent adult’s assets by theft or through undue influence. We are aggressive California trial attorneys who focus on litigating complex cases involving elder abuse and the fraudulent disposition of estates and inheritance. We stand. We fight. We win.
Our law firm has offices in San Francisco, San Diego, Carlsbad, Redwood City, Irvine, and Los Angeles, CA. Contact us online or phone at (800) 601-0170 to set up a free initial consultation.