Delving Deeper into Elder Financial Abuse
It’s an unfortunate reality that seniors and dependent adults are prime targets for financial abuse. It’s even more unfortunate that the perpetrators are often people they trust.
There is no limit to the number of ways dependent and elder financial abuse can occur. If you believe yourself or someone you know to be a victim, contact our elder abuse lawyers to learn how we can help prevent further elder abuse and recover any property that was lost.
We address these issues and more in the following guide to elder financial abuse. Reach out to the team at Keystone Law Group for more information today.
The definition of financial abuse can vary from state to state, but it usually consists of a person in a position of trust or confidence misusing, controlling, stealing or fraudulently obtaining the assets of a vulnerable adult for personal benefit.
In California, elders, or senior citizens, consist of adults aged 65 and older. Dependent adults consist of adults between ages 18 and 64 who have physical or mental limitations that prevent them from performing normal activities to protect themselves from financial harm.
The California elder abuse definition includes any form of physical abuse, financial abuse, neglect, abandonment, isolation, abduction, or willful infliction of harm, pain or mental suffering to anyone defined as an elder.
Keystone’s elder abuse attorneys work with clients bringing or defending against dependent or elder financial exploitation claims.
It’s not unusual for financial abuse to go on for months or even years before it is detected. Sometimes, it’s not until after a victim has died, and their will or trust is read or the title to their real estate is obtained, that elder financial abuse comes to light.
Who can bring a claim of financial abuse depends on whether the victim is living or deceased.
It is ideal for dependent and elder financial exploitation claims to be brought while the victim is alive. This way, the victim, if competent, can provide evidence to support their claim, as well as enjoy the fruits of successful litigation if they win their case.
Only when a victim has a proxy with the legal authority to litigate on their behalf will they not be required to bring their own claim. These proxies may include conservators, power of attorneys, and trustees.
If a victim doesn’t have a legal proxy and is incapable of bringing a financial abuse claim on their own, a family member or friend may choose to obtain a conservatorship over them to bring a claim for them.
Is an unusual or unexpected beneficiary named in a decedent’s trust? Did the decedent drastically alter their will or trust on their deathbed? Did an abuser swindle your loved one out of money or property before they died, leaving them without any assets? Financial abuse may be behind it.
Certain interested parties may have the ability to bring a financial abuse claim to recoup assets wrongfully taken from a decedent before they passed away. Family members or beneficiaries of a will or trust may also choose to bring what is called a will or trust contest to invalidate some or all parts of the document if they suspect dependent or elder financial abuse via undue influence, coercion or fraud to have taken place.
The following are parties who may be authorized to bring a will or trust contest on the basis of financial abuse after the victim has died: family members, trustees, executors/administrators, and conservators.
It is crucial for anyone accused of dependent or elder financial exploitation to have an experienced elder abuse lawyer on their side. If financial abuse is proven, the consequences can be dire—you may be forced to pay back money or property, be ordered to foot the bill for your adversary’s attorney’s fees and costs, as well as pay other penalties. Below are categories of people who are commonly accused of financial abuse:
Keystone’s experienced elder abuse lawyers can help anyone accused of financial abuse, as well as anyone seeking to bring a dependent or elder financial abuse claim. We break down the categories of people we counsel below.
Often times, the victims of financial abuse are not only elders or dependent adults themselves, but the victim’s family members, heirs and/or beneficiaries, who have had their rightful inheritance stolen by a financial abuser.
Perhaps your elderly loved one has been swindled out of money or property by an abuser before death, leaving your loved one’s estate (and your inheritance) financially impaired. Or maybe a financial abuser has caused your elderly loved one to execute a new will or trust that eliminates or reduces your share.
A power of attorney is a legal document that grants an “attorney-in-fact” the authority to manage a person’s financial, medical and personal affairs. It is important to note that a power of attorney is able to bring financial abuse claims on behalf of a victim if they petition to be appointed as a guardian ad litem by the court.
Sometimes, however, a person designated as a power of attorney may abuse their power and use it to commit financial abuse.
Conservators are responsible adults appointed by the court to make decisions for adults with mental or physical limitations. If someone is a “conservator of the estate,” it means they have the ability to handle the financial affairs of the conservatee (the incapacitated adult for whom the conservator is needed).
Sometimes, however, the appointed conservator can themselves be sued for financial abuse if other interested parties believe the conservator to be taking financial advantage of the conservatee.
An executor or administrator is someone appointed by the court to manage the financial affairs of a deceased person.
If you have been appointed as an administrator or executor, you have the authority to litigate claims for financial abuse on behalf of the decedent’s estate against those who financially abused the deceased person.
However, just as with power of attorneys and conservators, there are times when interested parties may suspect that administrators or executors are themselves guilty of having perpetrated financial abuse against the decedent while they were living.
Trustees manage property contained within a trust. It is their legal obligation to make decisions about the trust that are in the beneficiaries’ best interests. If you are the acting trustee of a trust and believe the person who established the trust to be a victim of financial abuse or to have been a victim, you may have the authority to litigate claims for financial abuse on behalf of the trust, regardless of whether the grantor is still living.
However, just as with power of attorneys and conservators, there are times when interested parties may suspect that trustees are themselves guilty of having perpetrated financial abuse against the elderly grantor.
Caretakers are among the most accused in financial abuse claims, because their close access to victims would have enabled them to easily commit the misconduct. Since caretakers are classified as “disqualified persons” for purposes of receiving gifts from elders and dependent adults, the court may, under certain circumstances, automatically assume that any gifts received by the caretaker are the product of financial abuse.
If you are a caretaker who has been accused of financial abuse, it is imperative for you to retain a qualified elder abuse lawyer to advise you about your rights.
Keystone is proud to offer a variety of services relating to elder financial abuse. Whether you are a victim of elder financial abuse, litigating on behalf of a victim, or defending against claims of elder abuse, our elder abuse attorneys, who are well-versed in this aspect of the law, will go the extra mile to secure the outcome you want. Below, you will find recent examples of the types of elder financial abuse cases we handle on a regular basis.
Our clients came to us for help invalidating a trust after learning that the decedent from whom they stood to inherit had left the entirety of his estate to a new partner he had met off a dating site. Unfortunately, the partner was an ostensible predator 50 years his junior.
Not long after meeting the abuser, the decedent had visited a Los Angeles estate planning law firm to amend his estate plan and name the abuser as the sole beneficiary of his trust. The decedent died unexpectedly under suspicious – and questionably criminal – circumstances shortly after making the change.
Keystone was contacted by the decedent’s ex-husband, and the ex-husband’s sister and nieces, who were the primary beneficiaries under the decedent’s prior trust, to see what could be done about suing the abuser for financial elder abuse and cancelling the newly created trust.
It was an uphill battle, but our elder abuse attorneys conducted far-ranging discovery, which provided further insight into the decedent’s broken mental state at the time the trust was signed and led them to other assumed victims of the abuser.
Our elder abuse lawyers were able to settle the case on terms that required the abuser to surrender the vast majority of the decedent’s assets to our clients, despite the fact they had no remaining familial connection to the decedent.
Our clients came to us after having been wrongfully disinherited from their grandmother’s trust on account of fabricated claims of physical and financial elder abuse.
Our clients had been living with their grandmother, the decedent, since their father, the decedent’s son, had died. The grandmother had named them the primary beneficiaries of her trust and practically disinherited her other son, who was still living but was estranged.
The disinherited son managed to secure a temporary conservatorship over the decedent on account of his allegations that her grandchildren were physically and financially abusing her. After the decedent was under her son’s control, he took her to his own lawyer to execute a new trust that disinherited her grandchildren and named him as the sole beneficiary.
Keystone vigorously defended the allegations of financial abuse leveled against its clients by arguing the decedent had been incompetent when she had executed the trust, as well as a victim of undue influence inflicted by her son.
Keystone’s compelling arguments caused the son to settle on terms that awarded Keystone’s clients the majority of the decedent’s assets.
“Roee Kaufman is a rockstar at his craft. He assisted my mother and me through a treacherous battle against my aunt. He gracefully brought closure to a very nasty situation, and we thank our lucky stars for him. He was so nice and thoughtful throughout the whole process. When a friend or client is in need of a probate attorney, I only refer Roee Kaufman of Keystone Law Group. Thank you Roee and Keystone Law Group for all that you have done for our family.”
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Keystone Law Group specializes in all probate law matters. Regardless of whether you are a dependent adult or elder bringing a financial abuse claim; an heir, family member or beneficiary bringing a will or trust contest because you believe a decedent to have been financially abused; or you are the defendant in a financial abuse case, the elder abuse attorneys at our firm will be able to assist you by securing the best possible resolution for your case.
We’re proud to help clients nationwide with all matters pertaining to dependent adult or elder financial abuse against a resident of California, and we look forward to helping you.
Since our lawyers focus exclusively on probate law, they possess the necessary knowledge to serve you in bringing a financial abuse claim or defending against one. Members of our team have also received numerous accolades and accomplishments, including:
We specialize in financial abuse of dependent adults and elders in California, commonly serving:
If your county isn’t listed above, but you’re in California, reach out to us to see if our will and elder abuse lawyers can still serve you.
In this section, you can find answers to many of the questions we receive from clients regarding elder financial abuse. If you have further questions, feel free to contact our elder abuse lawyers for assistance.
It is important to remain extra-vigilant about your finances and property if you are a dependent adult, elder or someone who is acting on their behalf (e.g., a conservator, trustee or power of attorney), because not only can financial abuse be difficult to detect unless you are paying close attention, but it is also most likely to occur to the aforementioned categories of people.
Look out for these financial abuse warning signs:
When it comes to reporting elder financial abuse , every state has different laws and procedures. However, a good first step no matter where you live is to contact your local or state adult protective services agency by filling out a form or calling an elder abuse hotline.
After reporting the abuse, it is advisable you reach out to an elder abuse attorney who can help you recover damages, attorney’s fees and more.
While criminal charges can result from reporting financial elder abuse to a government agency, Keystone’s elder abuse lawyers only litigate elder abuse claims in probate and civil courts.
Dependent adults and elders may be more susceptible to financial abuse because of physical and mental limitations they may have. Below you will find some common risk factors.
If any of these risk factors exist, it is important you take the necessary steps to protect yourself or your loved one against financial harm.
Keystone’s elder abuse attorneys regularly handle elder abuse matters that are financial in nature. However, if the abuse is physical only, we can always refer you to a trusted attorney who handles physical abuse cases.
It is important to take action right away if you suspect physical abuse to be taking place. You can start by reaching out to your local law enforcement or adult protective services agency to report the abuse. After, hire an elder abuse lawyer who handles physical abuse claims to pursue further legal action.
If you believe a dependent adult or elder to be facing an immediate threat or wish to remove them from an abusive situation, you may want to consider petitioning the court for a conservatorship of the person over them that would allow you to move them into your home or another safe location so you can manage their personal needs.
The most common perpetrators of elder financial exploitation are family members of the victim (most commonly adult children or spouses), followed by their friends and neighbors, and then their caretakers, according to the National Association of Adult Protective Services.
Other common traits of financial abusers include:
Among the different kinds of elder financial abuse, theft is the most pervasive.
It can occur in the form of abusers using an elder’s money, bank account or credit cards without permission for personal gain, or even a pickpocketer stealing an elder’s wallet while they are out for a walk. Thieves also may steal household objects or medication belonging to the elder.
Between 2013 and 2017, seniors aged 70 or older lost an average of $41,800 to elder financial abuse. What’s worse, family members and acquaintances were found to be the biggest perpetrators. Seniors who were exploited by a stranger lost an average of $17,000. Seniors exploited by someone they knew lost an average of $50,200.
Despite the pervasiveness of elder financial abuse, only about 25% of cases relating to it see the light of day, usually because the victim doesn’t notice it’s happening.
Elder financial abuse statutes aim to curb this widespread problem by making it easier for seniors to prove their financial abuse claims in court than it is for most other adults.
Elder financial exploitation can take many forms. It can be obvious or almost undetectable, minor or extreme, a one-time occurrence or prolonged. Below we cover the most common forms of elder financial abuse.
Elder financial abuse can result in the unlawful appropriation or use of assets while a victim is alive of after they have died. We cover the types of assets that can be taken through financial abuse in more detail below.
Present Assets: Financial abusers may steal, control, misuse or mismanage any of an elder’s current assets, including cash, cars, houses and other property.
Future Assets: Financial abusers may unduly influence, coerce or commit fraud to receive an inheritance from their victims via their will or trust. They may also take aim at a decedent’s life insurance benefits or bank account immediately following their death.
Certain types of financial elder abuse are considered criminal offenses. But, even if law enforcement does not have enough evidence to charge a person with elder financial abuse, sufficient evidence may exist to start a civil case for recovery of damages, property and more.
It is important to note that unlike elder physical abuse cases, elder financial abuse cases do not have a heightened burden of proof, meaning that recklessness or an intention to harm are not required to prove it. If the abuser was aware that their actions could have harmed the victim, and it can proven that financial abuse more than likely occurred, the elder will be able to recover.
While undue influence and incapacity are not prerequisites for bringing elder financial abuse claims, they are the reason behind many of them. We delve into what each of these terms means below.
In financial abuse cases, a person is thought to have applied undue influence when they use excessive persuasion to gain control over an elder’s property or resources. The following are examples of undue influence:
For undue influence to be proven, sufficient evidence must be presented to show the financial abuser knew or should have known that their misconduct was financially harmful to the elder. Likewise, when determining whether a certain outcome was the result of undue influence, the below points must be considered:
Read more about undue influence as it relates to will and trust contests.
Incapacity means that an elder is of unsound mind, i.e., they lack mental competence. Incapacitated elders are easy targets for financial exploitation because it is unlikely they will notice it taking place. The following are examples of incapacity leading to elder financial abuse:
It is important to note that isolated incidents of conduct on the part of elders will not suffice when bringing elder financial abuse claims based on incapacity. The elder must display a pattern of conduct that points to them being of unsound mind.
If it is proven that an adult is incapacitated and was financially abused while in this state, even if the court had not yet determined them to be incapacitated, the judge may decide to rescind any transfers made or contracts signed by the elder during this time.
It is unfortunate that so many instances of elder financial abuse go unnoticed. If you are an elder who suspects something to be out of order with your finances, or are a loved one of an elder who wants to help the elder bring a claim to recover the property they lost, it is important to get in touch with one of our elder abuse lawyers right away before the abuser has a chance to perpetrate more financial damage.
If you are worried about the cost of bringing an elder financial exploitation claim, keep in mind that you only have to prove that it was more likely than not that the financial abuse occurred. If you can prove that, you will, in all probability, be able to recoup attorney’s costs and fees from the abuser.
Below we cover what you can get if you prove an elder financial abuse claim.
Elders can be compensated for the financial harm inflicted on them through the abuse, as well as for the enjoyment of their property they lost during the time they did not have access to it.
If elder financial exploitation is successfully proven in a court action, the court may issue an award to the plaintiff consisting of the legal fees and costs expended on the action to be paid by the perpetrator.
If an elder is a victim of financial abuse, a petition can be filed by the victim or another concerned party for a restraining order to prevent the abuser from committing more acts of financial misconduct.
Petitions for restraining orders can be filed by: