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Families Must Hold Financial Elder Abusers Accountable

There are safety rules to protect all of us from elder abuse, whether physical or financial. Should families choose to enforce these rules, they can civilly prosecute elder abusers. California law provides clear remedies for victims of the abuse, or survivors of the victims, in order to bring wrongdoers to account.

Wrongdoers include those who physically abuse, neglect, financially abuse, abandon, isolate or abduct elders. Family members can bring to account financial abusers who take, secrete, appropriate, or retain real or personal property of an elder for wrongful use or with intent to defraud the elder or the elder's estate.

Here's a common scenario for how these cases occur: There is an elder - a parent, uncle or aunt. The elder is the maker of a longtime will or trust naming people close to the elder as beneficiaries of his or her estate. The elder's longtime named beneficiaries are people who could reasonably be expected to receive a share of the estate. The elder may be a widow or widower; maybe they have children from two marriages or stepchildren.

The elder becomes ill. A family member or unrelated party draws close to the elder. The elder becomes isolated. Other family members cannot speak to the elder without someone else listening in or being present. The elder becomes fearful yet increasingly reliant on the isolator.  The elder loses the ability to manage personal financial affairs. Someone else is now writing the checks, changing bank accounts, and managing money. The elder changes his or her longtime estate plan.

The person who will now benefit from the new will or trust drives the elder to an attorney's office. Secrecy surrounds the new estate plan. The elder is infirm and increasingly isolated. Statements, insinuations, and lies by the end-of-life caregiver or isolator easily influence the elder. Longtime estate plans are discarded.

The elder dies. Family members are frozen out. Trust litigation firms are retained, and the process of bringing wrongdoers to account begins.

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