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The Sick and Dying | Targets of Elder Financial Abuse

The Sick and Dying | Targets of Elder Financial AbuseUbiquitous, boorish and monstrous behavior, for years unchecked, is suddenly in the spotlight. Powerful and ordinary men alike are being called to account for the sexual harassment of women. Women long lacking effective routes to counter widespread abuse are now being heard. Decadence long ignored is now getting attention.

It seems at times that widespread awakening and scorn of reprehensible behavior can be painfully slow. For whatever reason, light finally pierces the darkness. Scripture teaches that "there is nothing hidden that will not be revealed, and nothing concealed that will not be known and illuminated." [1] This winter of 2017 is certainly a time of illumination.

Wrongs long unsuccessfully challenged may finally crash through the public consciousness. The sexual harassment awakening is, of course, our most current example. There are, of course, others. Senator Joseph McCarthy's three-year reign of terror against innocent Americans in the "Red Scare" of the early 1950s finally crashed before a June 1954 national television audience. The U.S. Army's counsel Joseph Welch, responding to spurious allegations of communist infiltration of his legal team, spoke the immortal lines that still reverberate some 60 years later:

"Until this moment, Senator, I think I never really gauged your cruelty or your recklessness." When McCarthy tried to continue his harangue, Welch angrily interrupted, "Let us not assassinate this lad further, senator. You have done enough. Have you no sense of decency?"

"Have you no sense of decency?" "Have you no sense of shame?" These words come to mind in the fight against elder financial abusers and those who assist them. For those in the fight, it is helpful that we are supported by strong California laws that "enable interested persons to engage attorney so take up the cause of abused elderly persons and dependent adults."[2] These statutory protections were enacted in part because of the Legislature's recognition that "cases of abuse of these persons are seldom prosecuted as criminal matters, and few civil cases are brought in connection with this abuse."[3] The Legislature observed that "most elders and dependent adults who are at the greatest risk of abuse, neglect or abandonment by their families or caretakers suffer physical impairments and other poor health that place them in a dependent and vulnerable position."[4]

While legislative findings are well grounded in committee testimony, I can attest that my own observations are supported by the years of experience gained since the application of additional financial elder abuse laws that were effective January 1, 2014. It doesn't take long in the civil prosecution of elder financial abuse cases to see that sick and dying elders are the target of elder financial abusers.

An interesting sidelight to the sexual harassment crisis is the New York Times statement about alleged legal efforts made to stop the publication of Harvey Weinstein's wrongdoing: "We consider this intolerable conduct, a grave betrayal of trust, and a breach of the basic professional standards that all lawyers are required to observe. It is inexcusable and we will be pursuing appropriate remedies." The New York Times also observed that,

"Whatever legalistic arguments and justifications can be made, we should have been treated better by a firm that we trusted."

Our law firm regularly brings civil court challenges to elder financial abuse. Such challenges are often defended by whatever legalistic arguments and justifications that can be made. Wrongdoers sitting on great profit do not easily give up their gains, however ill gotten. So what elements make the sick and dying especially vulnerable targets of elder financial abusers?

Hospice and Deathbed Amendments: Elder financial abusers have a long history of using a decedent's last days to effect major changes to wills and trusts to benefit themselves. The likely presence of major neurocognitive disorders (like dementia and Alzheimer's); multiple sedating medications; delusions; diminished cognition; reduced comprehension; confusion; anxiety; physical impairment; depression; and complete dependency on others make the elder victim completely vulnerable to undue influence or fraud.

There is a growing and widespread desire in our communities to protect seniors from elder financial abuse and to prevent further harm to those families that have suffered such abuse. Leaders, including physicians, writers, community activists, and lawyers, are an important part of expanding this desire into strong initiatives to protect our elders. For lawyers this means taking cases before judges and juries - cases that effectuate the goals of California's laws designed to deal with the scourge of elder financial abuse.

At Hackard Law we represent elders and their families in bringing elder financial abuse cases to court in California's major urban areas. We cannot serve all those who need such representation as there are simply limits to the number of active civil cases that we can prosecute in the civil courts at any one time. My book, The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse, available on Amazon, can server as a primer for people interested in anecdotes, case studies and ideas as to how to protect your loved ones from elder financial abuse.

The Sick and Dying | Targets of Elder Financial Abuse from Hackard Law on Vimeo.


[1] Luke 8:17

[2] California Welfare & Institutions Code § 15600(j)

[3] See California Welfare & Institutions Code § 15600(h)

[4] See California Welfare & Institutions Code § 15600(d)

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