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How to Protect Your Loved Ones from Financial Elder Abuse

Protect from Elder Financial Abuse.jpgAbuse of the elderly can take many forms. Emotional, physical, sexual, and financial abuse can all seriously harm the elderly, who are among the most vulnerable of all residents in California. By knowing the warning signs, family members can help protect elderly loved ones from financial abuse. A Santa Clara estate litigation attorney can also help elder abuse victims explore their legal remedies, and determine how best to hold abusers accountable for preying on the elderly.

What is Financial Elder Abuse?

The California Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act defines financial abuse as taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both. A person who assists in any of these acts, or uses undue influence over the adult to commit them, has also committed financial abuse.

This abstract legal definition does not clearly identify the wide variety of behaviors that can result in elder abuse. Therefore, family members must understand and watch for the warning signs of financial abuse.

AARP reports that financial abuse can take many different forms. Investment scams, bogus lottery schemes, and other widespread programs are often designed to target large groups of senior citizens at once. Stolen jewelry, identity theft, credit card misuse, and forged checks are used on a more personalized basis by someone who is closely connected with the adult. The National Center on Elder Abuse reports that 90 percent of perpetrators are family members or someone the victim knew well (such as neighbors, friends, or caregivers).

One important warning sign is a lack of recall about important financial matters. Your loved one should clearly understand and know how to explain withdrawals, investments, or other large transactions. If the elderly adult is unable to recall key details about the transaction, or understand its effect, you have encountered an important warning sign of diminished capacity to effectively conduct financial affairs--or that someone else has taken control over those affairs. In either event, carefully examine and monitor the person's finances to prevent future incidents.

Physical frailty can also provide a warning sign of financial elder abuse. As adults age and experience decreased mobility, they often need more assistance. This introduces them to many service providers who help around the house or assist with personal care needs (such as nurses, home health aides, or other caregivers). This also creates opportunities for these service providers to convince seniors that they need more work around the house, that the caregiver should assist them with financial matters, or other tactics. These requests may start small. With time, the elderly adult often develops more trust in the service provider. This creates larger opportunities for the caregiver to exercise undue influence and make illegal financial gains.

Isolation is yet another risk factor for financial abuse. When family members are far away, an elderly person can prove more open to new friendships. Without friends or family members nearby to monitor these friendships, an unscrupulous new friend may exploit opportunities to access and control the elderly adult's financial affairs.

How Financial Abuse Can Affect Elderly Victims and Their Loved Ones

The news has reported a tragic number of elder financial abuse cases. ABC 7 reports that a home care agency worker was arrested in Tustin on suspicion of elder abuse, identity theft, and burglary. She was accused of stealing credit and debit card information from elderly adults for whom she provided care. At least three different home care agencies had previously fired her for perpetrating financial abuse upon their clients. At the time of her arrest, she was out on bail on separate charges of financial elder abuse. She is believed to have targeted other victims across Los Angeles and Orange Counties.

According to the San Clemente Times, a local insurance agent was arrested for his part in a $1.6 million scheme to defraud elderly Californians. He falsified information on annuity applications to gain more than $135,000 in illegal commissions. The insurers then canceled these annuities upon discovering that the applicants were actually too old to qualify for them. He has been charged with a wide range of felonies related to financial elder abuse, including fraud, property damage, aggravated white collar crime, and burglary. A spokesperson for the California Department of Insurance described this scheme as "a common scam that targets seniors" and also noted that Orange County was a popular target for such schemes. She described its retirement communities and baby boomers as "sitting targets."

An Attorney Can Help You Remedy Financial Abuse Suffered By Your Loved Ones

One of the most important things a person can do to protect elderly loved ones is to simply report the crime. AARP reports that only one in 44 elder financial abuse cases are ever reported. This leaves 43 of every 44 perpetrators to commit crimes against other innocent victims.

An elder law attorney can help you and your family determine the best legal tools for addressing financial abuse. Start by reporting elder abuse to law enforcement and licensing authorities (such as the Department of Insurance) to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes.

But senior victims need compensation for their losses. They can accomplish this through a criminal restitution order (if the state prosecutes the perpetrator) or by filing a civil lawsuit against the perpetrator. This can not only compensate an elder abuse victim for financial losses but also provide important consequences that deter future conduct from elder abuse predators.

Experienced Elder Law Litigators Can Help Protect Your Loved Ones

An experienced estate attorney can review your elderly loved one's transactions to determine if someone has exercised undue influence for illegal financial gain--and if so, work to win justice. We focus on elder law and have the experience necessary to protect elderly Californians from financial abuse.

Call Hackard Law today to schedule your free consultation with one of the attorneys at Hackard Law. You can reach our office at (916) 313-3030 from Santa Clara and (213) 357-5200 from Los Angeles, and online here.

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