Identifying Elder Abuse, Part 2: Abuse to One's Financial Health and Remedies

This is the second part of our two part blog series on elder abuse.  This blog describes financial elder abuse and discusses some potential remedies and self-help resources that are available to potential elder abuse victims.

Financial Elder Abuse

Financial elder abuse occurs when property is wrongfully taken and/or withheld from an elder or dependent adult.  Financial elder abuse includes situations where property is given to someone other than the person the victim intended to give the property to because of malfeasance by the abuser.  One example of financial elder abuse is when an abuser steals money or property from an elder, or tricks the elder to giving money or property to the abuser.  Another example is when the abuser intentionally fails to provide full disclosure of who they are, what they do, or what they are selling in order to make a sale.

Some examples include family members, friends, or sales people who bully elders or dependent adults into getting loans, life insurance, reverse mortgages, or long-term annuities that are harmful to the victim.  It can also occur when abusers pressure elders to purchase products such as homes, timeshares, or cars they had no intention of buying.  After the transaction is completed, the elder’s family or friends learn of the transaction and discover that it was totally out of character for the elder, or that the transaction had “fine print” that the victim was not aware of, or which were not fully explained.  In some cases the abuser may receive a large commission (which they do not tell the elder about) or even worse - the victim’s property!  Some abusers use the “bait and switch” method where the victim is promised item “A” and in fact receives a lesser valuable or higher risk item “B.”  Some of the most brazen abusers trick elders into naming the abusers as beneficiaries on life insurance policies, annuities, or other products.  Other abusers re-title the victim’s property in the name of the abuser, but leave the victim on the hook to pay the mortgage and insurance.

Remedies and Resources

A victim of elder abuse can obtain a restraining order against the abuser preventing further contact and abuse.  In many cases, this is the first step of many in a court proceeding to recover damages from the abuser.  In some cases, an elder abuse victim who prevails on a claim for elder abuse in court can be awarded attorney’s fees and costs, as well as punitive damages.  The court also has the authority to award up to three times the damages recovered by successful elder abuse litigants. 

Some helpful resources in combating elder and dependent abuse can also be found at the California Department of Justice and California State Bar websites:

http://ag.ca.gov/bmfea/pdfs/citizens_guide.pdf

http://www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Pamphlets/ElderAbuse.aspx.