When the term "elder abuse" comes up, many people think of egregious instances of physical or sexual abuse. But many other types of elder abuse can seriously harm some of California's most vulnerable residents.
Financial abuse, for example, is also a serious problem that greatly harms elderly Californians. By learning about the risk factors of financial abuse and how to respond to it, you can protect your elderly loved ones from financial harm. A Santa Clara estate attorney can help you determine whether your loved ones fell victim to financial abuse, and what legal option will best enable you to protect them.
The Scope of the Problem
According to The Acorn, the current population of Americans ages 75 or older is one of the wealthiest generations of Americans, largely due to their retirement savings. This can make elderly Californians an attractive target for unscrupulous caregivers and other who would take advantage of them. Older Americans lose an estimated $36.5 billion every year in financial scams and abuse. Yet the National Adult Protective Services Association reports that victims only report one in 44 cases of financial abuse. This means that the actual value of losses is likely far greater than $36.5 billion.
Who Perpetrates Financial Abuse on Elderly Victims?
The Acorn also reports that a staggering 90 percent of abusers are family members or other persons whom the victim trusts. Trust is a major risk factor for financial abuse. Even people whom the elderly should expect to trust--such as family or paid caregivers at an assisted living facility--can perpetrate such abuse.
For this reason, Californians should know and understand their elderly loved ones' financial circumstances. Quickly identify and thoroughly explore unexplained withdrawals or payments, sudden changes in spending habits, or other mysterious changes.
The California Department of Justice has issued an informative and helpful guide to recognizing and preventing financial abuse. This, too, can help loved ones to identify early warning signs and respond appropriately when financial misconduct seems likely.
The sooner someone identifies a problem, the less harm a victim is likely to suffer. California law provides many different mechanisms for the financial protection of vulnerable adults. An experienced elder law attorney at Hackard Law can help explore those options for the financial protection of elderly, vulnerable adults.
An Example of a Financial Elder Abuse Situation
Often, financial elder abusers work surreptitiously, so other family members do not realize what they are doing until their loved one suffers significant losses--sometimes even after the older adult's death. Take note of the common situations involving financial elder abuse so you can recognize any signs that a loved one may fall victim of this type of abuse. Here is one of many examples of how this abuse takes place and escalates.
An older adult, Alice, still lives alone, but is experiencing difficulty with a few chores around the house. One of her nieces, Betsy, lives nearby, and begins to help out. During the next few months, Betsy begins doing more and more for Alice, telling Alice that she shouldn't--or couldn't--do these things for herself. Alice begins to doubt her abilities to take care of herself and starts relying on Betsy's help more and more.
Betsy and Alice become close, and Betsy speaks badly of other family members--including Alice's children. Betsy constantly mentions that they would help more if they really cared about their mother. Betsy expresses concern about what will happen to Alice's home and bank accounts when she passes away, as she doubts the children will take good care of Alice's affairs. Before you know it, Alice has added Betsy to her bank accounts and even to the title of her home.
As Betsy intentionally alienates Alice from other family members, she also successfully gains Alice's exclusive trust. Soon, Alice changes her last will and testament to favor Betsy--even over her own children--when Betsy was not previously a beneficiary of the will. Family and friends may not discover these changes until after Alice's death and the will is submitted to probate.
Upon examination, Alice's children notice regular, unexplained withdrawals from their mother's bank accounts. They are shocked to learn that Betsy is now the owner of the house, since she was on the title. The children know that this all feels wrong--and that their mother would never make these decisions of her own accord. They do not want their mother's cherished property and assets to go to Betsy when they are certain Betsy took advantage of their mother for her own personal gain.
The above situation--and others just like it--are more common than you may think. Often, financial elder abuse is only uncovered after a will and other legal documents were changed and after funds have disappeared.
You have the right to take legal action to recover losses suffered by financial elder abuse. These complicated cases can, however, require the right law firm on your side to protect the rights of your loved one and your loved one's beneficiaries.
Protect Your Elderly Loved Ones With an Experienced Elder Abuse Attorney
If you believe your elderly loved one suffered from a financial crime, contact the experienced elder law attorneys at Hackard Law. Oftentimes, accusing someone of wrongdoing--especially if the alleged perpetrator is a another family member or a trusted caretaker--can feel awkward and even painful. The compassionate lawyers at Hackard Law know how to investigate your situation in a careful, sensitive way, while still determining whether the evidence supports a claim of elder financial abuse. If we find that evidence, we can help you and your loved one recover.
Hackard Law serves victims of elder financial abuse throughout California. To schedule a free initial consultation with a member of our legal team, please call our Los Angeles office today at (213) 357-5200 or our Santa Clara office at (916) 313-3030, or send us an email through our online contact form.