Elder financial abuse may not be a crime that often makes front-page news, but it's still an insidious phenomenon that can impoverish senior citizens and ruin estates, leaving nothing for a family to inherit. The ripple effects of elder financial abuse are felt across entire communities - when elders are victimized, so are their loved ones. And the challenge from elder financial abuse is so daunting, it may damage the American economy on a scale of anywhere from $3 billion to $36 billion every year.
To calculate the staggering losses inflicted by elder financial abuse, however, is impossible from the perspective of many victims. They've had their fortunes stolen from them, their sense of security has vanished and their trust is shattered. Moreover, what an elder had planned to pass on to family and loved ones - whether it's real estate property, jewelry, cash, keepsakes or other valuables - is lost to a wrongdoer.
Recovery against perpetrators of elder financial abuse is a possibility through estate, trust and probate litigation. California law has been updated to confront instances of exploitation and undue influence in estate and probate lawsuits, cases which are more numerous than any official figures might suggest. Experienced estate litigation attorneys will apply both their professional skills and knowledge of cutting-edge legislation to protect clients and families who have suffered the injustice of elder financial abuse.
But how can you stop elder financial abuse before it bankrupts your family's estate or trust? The principle of prevention is that forewarned is forearmed. That means keeping a watchful eye on an elderly loved one or family member's finances and behavior so that you can stop a bad actor from getting away with fraud and exploitation. The National Adult Protective Services Association has issued guidelines to help you spot red flags of elder financial abuse:
- Unpaid Bills & Liabilities: If an elder supposedly has enough money to pay the bills but ends up having their utilities shut off, it might be a sign of just more than forgetfulness. That money might have gone right into an abuser's pocket.
- Surrendering Oversight: If a "new friend" or relative who suddenly begins visiting an elder assumes oversight of financial affairs or power of attorney, this can present a big red flag. Investigate the circumstances further.
- Suspicious Withdrawals: Checks written to "cash" or unexplained withdrawals from financial accounts are a potential signal that an elder is being exploited by someone eager for access to their funds.
- Disappearing Funds: If cash, valuables or financial documents begin disappearing, find out where they've gone. A bad actor might already be looting your elder's estate.
- Changed Estate Documents: If there are unauthorized or unexplained changes to wills, trusts or other estate documents, it's time to ask the elder and possibly consult legal counsel.
- Creditors Closing In: If the elder begins receiving property liens, foreclosure notices or other claims by creditors without you expecting it, make sure you find out why.
Vulnerable elders need a support system among family as well as financial, medical and legal professionals to protect them and their assets. If you need an estate and trust litigation attorney with extensive experience in elder financial abuse and undue influence cases, call us at Hackard Law at 916-313-3030. We work throughout California, including in Sacramento, Los Angeles, Alameda, and San Diego. Safeguarding clients is our top priority, and we look forward to hearing your story and seeing how we can help you.