Elderly individuals comprise a specific demographic who are vulnerable to abuse abuse and being taken advantage of financially. They may have physical or mental incapacities that do not allow them to defend themselves, and oftentimes are unfairly victimized. Financial elder abuse is often used as a general term that involves financial exploitation, causing its thousands of victims each year to face an increased risk of emotional injury or financial ruin.
Protecting Victims of Financial Elder Abuse
The State of California has various statutes making individuals who abuse the elderly subject to criminal and civil liability, contained in the California Welfare and Institutions Code and the California Penal Code. State laws prohibit physical and mental abuse, elder financial abuse, and lack of care regarding the elderly.
Elder Abuse Laws in Los Angeles
Under California law, an elder is defined as any person 65 years or older (CA Welfare & Institutions Code § 15610.27), and elder abuse includes physical abuse, neglect, financial abuse, abandonment, isolation, abduction or other treatment resulting in physical harm, pain or mental suffering to an elder. It also means the deprivation by a care custodian of goods or services that are necessary to avoid physical harm or mental suffering. (CA Welfare & Institutions Code § 15610.07). This applies to dependent adults as well, who are defined as individuals between ages 18 and 64 who have physical or mental limitations that restrict their ability to carry out normal activities or to protect their own rights. (CA Welfare & Institutions Code § 15610.23).
Financial Elder Abuse Under California Civil Law
Financial abuse- the misappropriation of an elderly’s assets (real property or personal property) for personal or monetary gains, or assisting in taking the property for a wrongful use, or with intent to defraud. For instance, financial abuse includes wrongfully taking an elderly’s checks, or using undue influence to obtain the transfer of real property. It can include forging checks, taking someone else’s retirement and Social Security benefits, or using another person’s credit cards and bank accounts. It also includes changing names on a will, bank account, life insurance policy, or title to a house without permission from the older person. (CA Welfare & Institutions Code § 15610.30).
California Criminal Elder Abuse Law
Under the California Penal Code, elder adults and dependent adults, those whose physical or mental disabilities or other limitations restrict their ability to carry out normal activities or to protect their rights, are afforded special consideration and protection. (CA Penal Code § 368). The law makes certain acts against elders and dependent adults punishable by prison terms and/or fines.
Criminal elder abuse is defined as when a person who knows, or reasonably should know, that a person is an elder and willfully causes or permits an elder to suffer, or inflicts unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering on the elder. It also covers situations where a person willfully causes or permits an elder to be placed in a situation in which the elder’s health or safety is endangered.
Federal Elder Abuse Laws
The Elder Justice Act is a federal law enacted as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) on March 23, 2010, and was the first federal legislation passed to authorize a specific source of federal funds to address elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation.
The Older Americans Act was passed by Congress in 1965 in response to concern by policymakers about a lack of community social services for older persons. In 2016, the Older Americans Act was reauthorized to provide programs from 2017 to 2019, including provisions to protect vulnerable elders by strengthening the Long-Term Care Ombudsman program and elder abuse screening and prevention efforts.
Recognizing Elder Financial Abuse
Financial elder abuse may not be immediately recognized by loved ones, especially for financial harm that can go undetected for an extended period of time. Physicians have an ethical obligation to report suspected elder abuse, and are required to report it under California laws.
Signs and symptoms of financial elder abuse are important to look for. Some signs of elder abuse may include:
- Financial indications
- Sudden financial downfall
- Sudden transfer of asset or withdrawal of money
- Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions
- Abrupt changes to a will, trust, or other financial documents
- Signature forgery
- Unnecessary services
- Bank notices
- Credit card notices
Certain risk factors may make elders more susceptible to being the victims of financial abuse. These include dementia, Alzheimer’s, mental illness, physical limitations (i.e. wheelchair bound, disabled), or substance abuse.
Common Elder Abusers
Abuse of elders and dependent adult individuals, when such situations occur, is commonly committed by the following:
- Family members – including spouses, adult children, next of kin, or other relatives
- Caregivers – including rehabilitation workers, nursing home workers, hospital workers, hospice workers, or in-home nursing care
- Fiduciaries – including agents under a power of attorney, court-appointed guardians or conservators, trustees, real estate agents/brokers, financial advisors, or attorneys
- Others – including acquaintances or neighbors
Resources for When Elder Abuse is Suspected
If an elder is in immediate danger from physical abuse, it is imperative to call 9-1-1, since elder abuse is a crime. You may also make a formal complaint to the facility where the elder is an inpatient.
It is important to take action to report elder abuse, so that appropriate civil and criminal penalties can be imposed.
Los Angeles Financial Elder Abuse Attorney
If you suspect that an elder individual has been the victim of financial elder abuse, it is important to document everything. This may be in the form of photographs, videos, requesting bank records, or writing down a timeline of events in a notebook. If you suspect that you or a loved one may have been the victims of financial elder abuse in Los Angeles, contact the attorneys at Stone & Sallus today.