Financial elder abuse is fast becoming one of the most serious problems faced today by senior citizens. In broad terms, our estate planning attorneys in Orange County define financial elder abuse as fraudulent, unauthorized or even illegal exploitation of an older person. The person causing the abuse is often someone that the elder has a trusting relationship with. This trusted person then causes harm to the elder, by means of misappropriating his or her financial resources, or abusing the financial control that they have been entrusted with. Instead of handling the senior’s finances responsibly, the person bringing about the abuse uses the elder’s financial assets for their own personal gain and profit. As a result, the senior is deprived of his or her financial assets, benefits or other resources of value.
This type of abuse can come about in many ways. Whenever a caregiver has access to a senior’s resources, there is a chance that this access could be abused. Sometimes the financial abuse comes about through outright monetary theft. However, there are other subtler ways by which this abuse can take place, some of which are not immediately obvious to the elder individual or others. For example, a person might forge the senior’s signature, using it for financial transactions. Sometimes a person obtains a guardianship or power of attorney role over the senior, for the specific purpose of abusing that power. Sometimes a senior may be forced into transactions that he or she simply does not understand. Sadly, this type of abuse is often brought about by family members that the senior trusts, such as their children, grandchildren or spouse.
There are also scam tactics that are designed to be confusing to senior citizens. Shady insurance schemes, fake health care products, lottery scams, and predatory lending practices are all ways that financial elder abuse can take place.
As this type of abuse continues to grow, states are increasingly working to put laws and other protections in place. During the 2016 legislative session alone, financial elder abuse was addressed by thirty-three states, as well as the District of Columbia. In the case of some states that already had laws of this nature on the books, these existing laws were expanded and reinforced. For example, Idaho’s existing law was revised to include exploitation as part of neglect. Illinois extended the timeframe, after the act of exploitation occurs, during which prosecution can take place. New Hampshire, whose law previously used the wording “incapacitated,” changed the wording to “vulnerable” in the case of adults. Other states, such as new Jersey, established task forces against this type of abuse.
As this problem grows, elected officials have become more aware of the extent of the exploitation, neglect and abuse of elders. Bills will undoubtedly continue to be introduced in Congress, to further protect seniors against financial abuse. It is important to note that not all legislation of this kind has been introduced only within the last couple of years. However, although the problem has been recognized for some time, in recent years the efforts to protect seniors against this abuse have accelerated. Unfortunately, not all proposed legislation designed to protect seniors against financial abuse has been passed. For example, although California introduced several elder financial abuse bills during 2016, not all were signed by the governor.
There remains a lot of work to be done to further protect senior Americans from financial losses resulting from abuse. Currently, it was estimated in a recent study that elders are suffering annual losses exceeding $2.9 billion dollars, exclusively due to exploitation and financial abuse. As the “baby boomers” continue to age, it is expected that this issue will continue to grow. As such, it is important that both our federal and state governments rise to the task of protecting senior citizens from financial abuse.
Our Orange County estate planning attorneys are committed to bringing public awareness to the growing epidemic of financial elder abuse through our blog. If you see a news story about financial elder abuse that you would like us to feature, please contact us.