We invest elder caregivers with a remarkable amount of power. With power comes responsibility.
So, it’s troubling, even tragic, when this responsibility is abused. And, elder abuse, including elder financial abuse, is magnified when marriage is used for financial exploitation. I’ll share a couple stories – stories drawn from real cases – but changed in part to preserve privacy.
So, let’s start with Roger, an 82-year-old retired teacher. Roger was single for 81 years. Roger’s closest family members are his two sisters, Mary and Molly. They are named as equal beneficiaries in Roger’s 2014 trust.
A few years later, 2016, Roger was diagnosed with dementia and Parkinson’s disease. Roger’s failing memory, impaired mobility, and living alone required changes to his lifestyle. It was dangerous.
Mary and Molly helped him to hire in-home caregiver services. At about the same time, Roger, with sufficient capacity, gave Molly his power of attorney. Molly handled Roger’s finances, including payments to caregivers.
In 2017, Roger’s neurologist examined him and wrote that Roger had irreversible cognitive and memory deficits. The neurologist’s notes say that Roger lacked capacity since at least 2016. In late 2018 Roger was declared incapacitated by two other physicians.
Shortly after this declaration, Maria, one of Roger’s caregivers, drove Roger to an estate planning attorney that she chose. The attorney drafted a new trust amendment for Roger. The amendment identifies Maria as a successor trustee. It also identifies Maria as the major beneficiary of Roger’s trust.
The drafting attorney was so concerned over what he saw and heard that he contacted Adult Protective Services (APS) to check on Roger. Roger told the attorney that he thought that Maria was taking his money.
Then, just five days after the report to APS, Roger and Maria got married. A neuropsychologist referred by APS examined Roger two days after the marriage. The neuropsychologist reported that Roger lacked rudimentary judgment and did not demonstrate the capacity for health care, finances, and marriage.
In layman’s terms, Roger was out of it. And, Maria wasn’t. She targeted Roger’s money and used marriage as a way to get it.
Roger’s sisters weren’t going to stand for this. Roger is still alive. He doesn’t have the capacity to know what he is doing. Fortunately, his sisters do. And, they’ve brought an action to invalidate Roger’s trust amendment and to remove Maria as the trustee.
No matter how you slice this case, Maria will have an uphill battle to show that Roger had capacity to change his trust and that he wasn’t unduly influenced by her. This case is working its way through the courts. I know from experience that cases like Roger’s don’t get solved right away, no matter how awful the circumstances.
It is one thing to mount a challenge against an abusive elder marriage while the victim is living and another when the abused elder has passed away. The story of Gary is a good example.
Gary was born in 1933. He married when he was in his early 20s to Judy. Gary and Judy had two daughters, Fran and Jenny. Gary, then single, made a trust in 1998 that made Fran and Jenny equal beneficiaries to the assets in the trust.
Gary retired a few years after the 1998 trust. His health suffered as he aged into his late 70s.
He felt constant fatigue, had memory impairment and suffered from slow-healing sores. The sores were a result of diabetes.
In 2009 Gary had a sore on his lower back that would not heal. He was hospitalized for six months and transitioned into a rehabilitation facility. Jenny regularly accompanied her dad to his doctor’s appointments.
Jenny says that in one appointment Gary’s physician told them that Gary had vascular dementia. This occurred during the time that Gary was in the rehabilitation facility. Oksana, an Eastern European immigrant, worked in the facility’s kitchen. She got to know Gary during his time at the rehabilitation facility.
A few months after Gary left the facility and returned home, Oksana quit her kitchen job and moved into Gary’s home. She took over all aspects of his life, including housekeeping, cooking, bathing and handling his finances. Oksana’s son, Marko, was enlisted by her to drive Gary to all of his appointments.
Both of Gary’s daughters, Fran and Jenny, visited their dad during this time. Oksana was present and neither Oksana nor Gary mentioned any romantic relationship between them. In October 2018, Gary then 85 years old, and Oksana, thirty years younger, married. The marriage was done in secrecy.
A few months later, Christmastime, Gary signed a new trust that amended the trust that he’d signed 20 years earlier. The amendment gave 100% of Gary’s assets to Oksana. Gary died four months later.
Oksana did not inform Gary’s daughters of his death. The local mortuary called them a few days after Gary died. Oksana did not let Gary’s daughters participate in their dad’s funeral. She told others that Fran and Jenny “don’t get anything. Everything is mine.” Soon after Gary’s death, Oksana sold off most of Gary’s personal property. She still resides in the house that Gary had owned for decades.
Fran and Jenny decided that they’re not going to stand for this. They believe that Oksana overcame Gary’s free will in getting him to give everything to her. Gary’s vulnerability was clear. Oksana’s secrecy and control over him resulted in significant changes to his long-held estate plan – all benefitting Oksana.
Fran and Jenny are pursuing a civil elder financial abuse case against Oksana. They believe that their father was wronged. And, they are seeking all available remedies, including the return of all of Gary’s assets, extra damages and the recovery of their attorney’s fees and costs.
It’s unfortunate, but there are a lot of cases in California with similar circumstances to that of Roger, Gary and their families. I’ve taken the time to write about the huge impacts of elder financial abuse.
If you would like to receive a copy of my book, The Wolf at the Door: Undue Influence and Elder Financial Abuse, write me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your physical address.
If your family is facing wrongdoing like that faced by Roger and Gary, and you want to talk about it, call us at Hackard Law: (916) 313-3030. We want to hear your story.