Elder financial abuse in California is a grave threat to the economic as well as emotional and even physical well-being of our elderly loved ones. Whether it's an upscale neighborhood in Los Angeles, a hillside estate in Alameda County or a generational farm outside of Sacramento, nowhere are families immune from this form of exploitation. Known as "the crime of the 21st century," elder financial abuse can range from unethical sales tactics and a variety of fraud schemes perpetrated by strangers to misappropriation of a senior's funds and assets, often by a family member. Other potential perpetrators can include caretakers, financial professionals, attorneys, or con artists posing as a "new friend." Many times elder financial abuse runs hand-in-hand with isolation, cognitive impairment on the part of the victim, undue influence and neglect.
Throughout California, elder financial abuse poses a danger to our families and communities. Cases like contractor fraud, insurance fraud, investment fraud and real estate fraud, as well as telemarketing scams, are all too frequently perpetrated against our elderly neighbors and loved ones. Senior citizens are also vulnerable to wrongdoing by their very own relatives, with this situation unfortunately the most common form of elder financial abuse. Abusers within a family will take advantage of their position to hijack their elders' bank accounts and steal their funds and property. At times perpetrators of elder financial abuse will also misuse power of attorney to defraud elderly victims, not to mention the wielding of undue influence to unlawfully change estate documents like wills and trusts.
Elder Financial Abuse Litigation
Elder financial abuse is a serious crime that demands immediate action both in civil court and by authorities in law enforcement and adult protective services. If you suspect financial exploitation of an elderly loved one, we can help. Hackard Law regularly represents victims of elder financial abuse and their families in litigation to protect their interests and hold bad actors accountable. We often work with clients in making contingency fee arrangements available.
Over the past few years there's been a sea change in the way elder financial abuse is treated in California probate law. Now, in addition to criminal sanctions by authorities, victims and their families are able to bring legal action in the civil courts. The Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act provides a means of recovery for those whose interests as estate heirs or trust beneficiaries have been violated. That means if a judge or jury see a preponderance of evidence that a perpetrator wrongfully took the property of a victim/decedent, they can be held accountable for the damage they caused as well as attorney's fees. Litigation in civil court means that a jury of your peers can hear your story, witness firsthand the tragic results of elder financial abuse and also punish the wrongdoer while making recovery possible. California's introduction of jury trials for financial exploitation of the elderly is proving to be a game-changer in protecting our communities' most vulnerable members against financial predators.
Evidence of Elder Financial Abuse
The sooner elder financial abuse is detected, the better the chance for recovery of estate and trust assets on behalf of the victims. So what are the typical signs or "red flags" to look out for? According to the guidelines of National Adult Protective Services Association, the following factors should be watched closely to avoid a potential personal tragedy and financial disaster:
Liabilities & Unpaid Bills: What if an elderly loved one should have the means to pay the bills every month, but somehow their utilities get shut off? There might be more in play than just a senior's faulty memory - a bad actor may have made off with money from the elder's accounts, leaving the victim high and dry.
Surrender of Oversight: Very often we see cases of a "new friend," neighbor or opportunistic relative appearing on the scene to offer their "help" in managing the elder's financial account. At times they even succeed in gaining power of attorney. This effective forfeiture of oversight should be looked into closely for other indicators of suspicious activity.
Suspicious Withdrawals: As any good investigator will tell you, follow the money. When financial accounts begin registering unexplained withdrawals or checks set to "cash," it's time for you to speak with bank employees and get further details on who's making these transactions.
Vanishing Assets: Another tell-tale sign of elder financial abuse is when valuables begin to disappear. Suddenly an elder's jewelry, cash or financial documents like stock certificates vanish, and the perpetrator takes to living lavishly with new purchases of fancy attire, vehicles, property, etc.
Changed Estate Documents: Wrongdoers who commit elder financial abuse will often seek to legitimize their predatory behavior with the stamp of legitimacy. Exercising undue influence on the elderly victim, they'll "shop around" for any lawyer who will agree to change a will or trust document in their favor. Ask your elderly loved one about any such changes - if your faced with such a situation, it may be time to consult an experienced trust litigation attorney.
Creditors Come Knocking: Is the elder encountering financial trouble where there should be none? Find out the explanation for property liens or foreclosure warnings. The reason behind creditor claims may be more than just a mistake - your elderly family member might have been financially exploited by an abuser who cleaned out their accounts.
Protective Measures against Elder Financial Abuse
What are some initial steps you can make to stop elder financial abuse? Several measures are available for family members, lawyers, financial professionals and medical caregivers. Along with basic awareness, coordination and ongoing communication between parties translate to increased protection. Here are some basic actions you can take to keep elderly loved ones safe from exploitation:
Financial Oversight: A family member and financial professional at the local bank or advisory firm should establish a system of oversight over an elder's accounts. In addition to setting up bill payment, keep a sharp eye on any excessive withdrawals or irregular transfers. Consider joint accounts with the elder, and look into the possibilities of a limited credit card for an elder susceptible to financial exploitation.
Revocable Trust: With a revocable trust in place, a trustee has access to a trust account without enjoying the status of legal ownership. Stopping irresponsible or just plain bad trustees from squandering assets translates to building in effective safeguards.
Communication: The "human element" is vital in preventing elder financial abuse, and that means maintaining effective lines of communication between all interested parties, whether it be the attorney, investment advisor or medical caregiver. Just as importantly, a loving relationship with an elderly family member makes all the difference in shielding them from harm. If a senior is lonely, they'll be more vulnerable to fraud or unethical sales pitches. Just visiting an elder regularly, talking and showing them you care is an enormous boost in keeping them safe.
No-Contact Lists: "Boiler room" telemarketers and deceptive mailers target elders who suffer from cognitive impairment. One way to block most, if not all, of these unwelcome solicitors is to contact the FTC's Do Not Call Registry, Nomorobo and the Direct Marketing Association. Speak with your elderly loved one about the harmful nature of these calls and fliers to help them spot when they're being scammed.
Hackard Law Represents Victims of Elder Financial Abuse
At Hackard Law, our attorneys are dedicated to representing victims of elder financial abuse and their families throughout California. Under Michael Hackard's award-winning leadership, the Hackard Law team regularly pursues litigation against abusers and attains recovery for families both in probate and civil court. An estate or trust lawsuit with evidence of elder financial abuse is an especially serious matter, and wrongdoers will often settle out instead of facing a jury of their peers - a jury that won't take kindly to the exploitation of senior citizens in our community.
While based in Sacramento, Hackard Law protects clients in elder financial abuse lawsuits across the State of California. Our attorneys serve clients and safeguard their interests in a number of counties, including:
- Los Angeles County
- San Francisco County
- Sacramento County
- Contra Costa County
- Alameda County
- San Diego County
Contingency Fee Cases
Many times an individual who needs to take legal action against an elder financial abuser doesn't have the resources to pay for an attorney. This is why Hackard Law has contingency fee arrangements - you don't have to pay us any legal fees upfront, and attorney's fees will only be paid if we obtain recovery for you and your family.
Hackard Law is there for those who have been blindsided and left behind - victims of financial exploitation and their loved ones. We'll be glad to listen to your story and see how we can help can help you. Call us today at 916-313-3030 for a free consultation.