There are few probate and trust situations as emotional as Financial Elder Abuse. Adding money, inheritance, and other assets to an abuse situation can become overwhelming for victims and families. At RMO Lawyers, we protect clients faced with difficult elder financial abuse situations everyday. Here’s a guide.
“What is elder financial abuse?”
Elder financial abuse amongst family members is a common element of trust disputes, conservatorship disputes, and will disputes. It can involve everything from simple forgery to psychological coercion. Financial elder abuse can include: (from Napsa-now.org)
- Using a Power of Attorney, given by the victim to allow another person to handle his/her finances, as a license to steal the victim’s monies for the perpetrator’s own use
- Taking advantage of joint bank accounts in the same way
- Using ATM cards and stealing checks to withdraw monies from the victim’s accounts
- Threatening to abandon, hit, or otherwise harm the victim unless he or she gives the perpetrator what he/she wants
- Refusing to obtain needed care and medical services for the victim in order to keep the person’s assets available for the abuser
- In-home care providers charging for services; keeping change from errands, paying bills which don’t belong to the vulnerable adult, asking the vulnerable adult to sign falsified time sheets, spending their work time on the phone and not doing what they are paid to do
We often work with clients who have seen a parent or other elderly loved one suddenly make an unusual and drastic change to their financial situation or estate plan (i.e. will or trust beneficiaries), giving preferential treatment to one suspicious individual, and adversely affecting their own well-being and their other lifelong loved ones.
“How do I choose an elder financial abuse lawyer?”
Your relationship with your elder financial abuse lawyer is the most important thing to consider when choosing an elder financial abuse lawyer. You must choose a lawyer who understands you, your family, its dynamics, the psychological issues that often come into play, and communicates clearly, sets firm boundaries, has proven experience, and is strategically able to prosecute your claims in your loved one’s county of residence. It is imperative that your elder financial abuse attorney is familiar with the decedent’s local superior or probate court.
“Should I choose an elder financial abuse attorney near me?”
Yes, it helps. However, it’s more important to retain an elder financial abuse attorney who has experience in your loved one’s county of residence. For example, if your one lives(d) in Los Angeles County, you would be best-served to retain an elder financial abuse attorney who practices regularly in the Los Angeles Superior Court. If you live in Los Angeles, but your parent passed away in San Diego, you might consider an attorney familiar with the Superior Court of California – County of San Diego.
“How do you prove elder financial abuse?”
There are many signs, and many go undetected until a loved one passes or just hard to identify because your loved one may feel ashamed about the abuse. Feel free to contact us with any questions for a free consultation. Here are a few foundational elements a court may look at.
Commonly, the individual committing a crime of elder financial abuse or undue influence has developed a close but isolating relationship with the victim. Maybe they spend hours in a home together. Maybe they spend hours in a car together. Maybe they find situations to be alone with the victim in other ways.
A core element of elder financial abuse often is the premise that the victim does not have the mental capacity to make financial decisions for themselves, whether due to a mental health condition or similar deficiency.
The core element of elder financial abuse is the premise that the victim is not mentally able to give informed consent. Whether due to a mental health condition, undue influence, or similar influence, the idea is that the elderly victim gave their consent to a financial decision that they were unable to appreciate sufficiently to have consented to it.
“What are some warning signs of elder financial abuse?”
The warning signs of elder financial abuse can take many forms, so here are some examples. Frequently, victims are afraid to admit missing items or money in accounts because they’re embarrassed, or they worry it’s their own memory at fault. This can be emotional for the victim, as it creates anxiety, self-doubt, and depression. Here are a few specific examples of warning signs we’ve seen in cases we’ve successfully prosecuted.
Sudden change in gifting habits
Has your loved one given their grandchildren the same savings bond for every birthday, and suddenly stopped this year? Or maybe they always paid for plane tickets to visit, but is now unable? We’ve seen this happen to many victims who are surprised to find bank accounts emptied, or unexplained credit card bills piling up.
Closing a long-standing investment account
Has your parent recently closed an investment account that they had for years? We’ve seen this happen after an account has been drained by an abuser.
Unexplained loss of possessions
Has your parent “lost” jewelry, watches, etc. without explanation? Is a piece of artwork missing from the walls? We’ve seen children, friends, significant others and caregivers steal a loved one’s possessions and victims are afraid to admit they can’t explain the disappearances.
They stop using credit cards
Is your parent suddenly using cash instead of credit cards to pay for dinners? Is it a clear inconvenience for them, yet they choose to forego credit card use? Are their cards suddenty maxed out with no appreciable benefit to them? We’ve seen victims discover alarmingly high credit card balance, for which they can’t explain the charges.
“Is jail time the penalty for elder financial abuse?”
Elder financial abuse can be deemed a misdemeanor or a felony. If convicted, there may be: financial penalty of $1,000 to $10,000, completion of a court program, and probation. Jail time is dependent upon the case and charges. Many victims are hesitant to prosecute abusers because they don’t want a family member to go to jail. We’re happy to discuss your options with you during a free consultation. Please email [email protected] or call (424) 320-9444.
“How do I report elder financial abuse?”
We recommend that you contact an elder financial abuse attorney, and work with them to report the incident. If you’d like to self-report in California, you can visit the State of California website for forms and help, click here.
“What are some statistics for elder financial abuse?”
According to the SEC, up to 2.7 to 6.6 percent of people over 65 are exploited financially, while only 44% of elder abuse cases are reported.
“Does elder financial abuse always involve undue influence?”
In the vast majority of cases, yes. However as a simple example, forging a parent’s signature on a check can be a form of elder financial abuse, without involving undue influence. Elder financial abuse is frequently related to younger family members taking financial advantage of older family members. Often, this involves undue influence. However, the term undue influence can refer to many other types of situations wherein any individual takes advantage of another, regardless of age, or familial relationship.
A frequent example of elder abuse involves coercing a parent to change a will or trust to benefit the abuser. This is typically done through manipulation and undue influence.
“Does elder financial abuse always have to benefit the abuser?”
No, sometimes the person charged with elder financial abuse may be accused of indirectly benefiting via a child or other person. If the deceased suddenly decides to leave their entire $10 million dollar estate to one 10 year-old grandchild, it is more likely that the child’s parents would be accused of the elder abuse, not the grandchild. If elder abuse occurred.
“Can any estate planning attorney help me with elder financial abuse?”
No. Nowadays, most attorneys and law firms specialize in only one or a handful of different forms of law, and litigation is one such practice focus. Frequently, estate planning attorneys focus on the administration of wills and trusts, and uncontested conservatorships. This means, they set up wills, trusts, advanced healthcare directives, and powers of attorney. Most estate lawyers do not specialize in trust disputes, nor elder financial abuse law. We recommend selecting a top elder law attorney in the decedent’s or loved one’s county of residence.
“What’s the process like working with an elder law attorney?”
First off, we understand there usually are emotions involved in these cases. It’s for this reason that we take great care to make sure we understand your specific circumstances so we can help you isolate the legal issues from the emotional ones. In our experience, simply taking this step, finding someone who can help guide you down this path, helps to reduce stress and give you peace of mind.
Secondly, our job is to identify and articulate the legal strategies that will help protect you and your loved one. In elder financial abuse cases, this can take many forms. Proving a forged check can be quite straightforward, while proving undue influence can be quite complicated. We will work to help you get the most impactful resolution to your case, using our legal experience.
Have questions? Contact RMO now for a free consultation.
(424) 320-9444 or [email protected]
The California Guide to Elder Financial Abuse
The Most Common Penalty for Financial Elder Abuse
The Guide to Family Trust Embezzlement and Stealing
The Winner’s Guide to Family Trust Contests
The Trustee’s Guide to Breach of Trust Claims
The California Guide to Removing an Executor of Estate
About RMO Lawyers
RMO LLP provides personal and efficient inheritance dispute services to individual and institutional clients. The firm’s attorneys focus on probate litigation involving contested trust, estate, probate, and conservatorship matters. Serving California and Texas, with offices in Los Angeles, Pasadena, Orange County, San Diego, Fresno, the Bay Area, Dallas, and Houston. For more information, please visit https://rmolawyers.com/.