Lilacs & Greensleeves: A Special Message From Karen
A Special Message From Karen
“In California, the term elder abuse refers to a broad range of wrongs committed against citizens aged 65 years or older. Elder abuse can be in the form of physical, financial and, in some cases, sexual mistreatment of elderly persons. The law in California recognizes person 65 years and over as a protected class and, much like those governing the treatment of children, adds extra penalties and rights of recovery against those who take advantage of elder citizens. With the current population having longer life expectancies than prior generations, elder abuse is on the rise and the financial losses from elder abuse in this country in one year were in the billions of dollars.
As a civil attorney, the type of elder abuse I see most often is financial elder abuse, which I have come to realize can take many forms. While the abuse more often comes from those related to or caring for the elderly person, I have also encountered situations where solicitors and salesman have taken advantage of a person that they knew to be age 65 and over and influenced that person to sign contracts, pay money and provide access to their homes. Financial elder abuse is more common when elderly persons have amassed significant wealth, but I have also seen persons with little net worth be taken advantage of by their own spouses and children in order to persuade them to give up legal rights.
In the case of financial elder abuse, fraud often plays a significant role. Unfortunately, some family members, friends, and others are willing to misrepresent facts, lie about the meaning of a legal document, or obtain signatures on documents they have not explained in order to gain access to real property, bank accounts, investment accounts, credit cards, and other assets held by persons the age of 65 or older. In addition, I have personally had clients that were isolated by family or caregivers, lied to and told that no one wants them and they will not receive care unless they agree to do certain things. I have also encountered family members and friends who hid mail, change the mailing addresses for elder family members without their consent, and remove items from households without knowledge of the elderly person. These are all sadly ways through which people gain access to personal and financial information of elderly persons.
In addition to the foregoing, the following are common examples of financial elder abuse:
(1) influencing or defrauding a person to either add a family member or close friend to the title of real property belonging to the elderly person or to transfer title to real property owned by an elderly person to a third party;
(2) persuading an elderly person, often living alone, to enter into contracts, sign up for services, and seek large payments up front which are then immediately negotiated before the person realizes what happened – this can include telephone solicitations;
(3) convincing an elderly person to add joint owners to bank accounts, which allows any other owner full access to withdraw funds; or to provide safe deposit box access;
(4) influencing an elderly person to add a co-signer on a credit card account, including general credit cards or specialty cards like Sears, Macy’s, etc.;
(5) more generally, gain a position of trust with an elderly person to gain access to personal and financial information, including estate planning documents, cash, stocks, mutual funds, bank accounts and annuities;
If you suspect that an elder is being abused, unduly influenced or defrauded in some way, it is important to utilize the services of Adult Protective Service and, in some instances, consult with an attorney to verify the rights and remedies afforded to the victim under civil law. Indeed, there may be certain immediate action to be taken such as temporary restraining orders, removing clouds on title to real property, or freezing, flagging or closing accounts.
A well-drafted estate plan can aide an elderly person and the people around them to resist elder abuse or at least direct financial institutions as to the authorized person allowed to act on the elderly person’s behalf. Having trusted and qualified primary care physicians and specialists will also help when the time comes to determine whether a person can no longer make financial or personal decisions.
Although not my specific area of practice, in the event of actual or suspected physical or sexual abuse of an elder, the state provides Adult Protective Services and law enforcement resources to assist in identifying, investigating, and hopefully combatting and prosecuting the mistreatment.”
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to constitute legal advice, or create an attorney-client relationship. Please consult with a licensed attorney if you suspect that yourself or someone you know is a victim of elder abuse.