When you or your elderly loved one have been financially exploited, there are two things uppermost on your mind – justice and compensation. While it is necessary to pursue a civil lawsuit to have hope of being repaid for the lost funds or property, it is a natural human reaction to want the perpetrator punished criminally as well.
At the same time, it is a sad fact that elder financial abuse is often perpetrated by people who are related to the victim in some way. When you know the person who committed the crime, you might not want them to be saddled with a felony criminal record. However, not every case of elder financial exploitation results in a felony charge, or in jail time.
Here’s what you need to know about criminal penalties for elder financial abuse in California so that you can decide if pursuing criminal charges is something that you want to do.
What is Financial Elder Abuse and How Can it Be Prevented?
Any intentional financial exploitation of or theft from an elderly person over the age of 70 is considered elder financial abuse. To be financial abuse, the perpetrator must have known that the person was an elder when they committed the crime.
Elder financial abuse could be a result of fraud, theft, embezzlement, or by other means of deception. The only requirement for financial elder abuse charges to be filed is that the person committing the crime knew that the victim was an elder or dependent adult.
Preventing financial elder abuse is as easy as keeping tabs on what is going on with your loved ones. If finances are managed by friends and family members, it is a good idea to have an impartial third party do audits on occasion and watch accounts for red flags. You can also talk to the financial institutions that the victim uses to let them know that financial elder abuse is a concern.
Keep in mind that personal bankers are required by law to report suspicions or evidence to the proper authorities so that charges may be filed. If elder financial abuse is discovered in this way, you may not have the option of filing charges – it may be done for you.
Is Stealing from the Elderly a Felony?
Stealing from the elderly can be a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the details of the case. Any theft or fraud resulting in a loss of $950 in property or assets is considered a misdemeanor. Once you reach losses over $950 things become a bit cloudier.
The State of California has three laws governing criminal penalties for elder financial abuse. These are divided into commercial, non-caretakers, and caretakers. For non-caretakers and caretakers, financial elder abuse leading to more than $950 in losses could be either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the findings of the court.
Generally speaking, the more heinous the crime, the more likely it will be classified as a felony. Amounts reaching thousands of dollars or more are also more likely to be charged with a felony than a misdemeanor.
What is the Penalty For Elder Financial Abuse?
Penalties for elder financial abuse can vary depending on the facts of the case. Much depends on whether the judge decides to class the crime as a felony or misdemeanor. Bigger financial losses are more likely to come with stiffer penalties, as are cases in which the perpetrator was particularly deceitful or harmful.
Penalties for financial elder abuse can include fine and jail time.
Elder Financial Abuse Penalties in California
The penalties for financial abuse in California include fines and jail time. How much the perpetrator must pay in fines, and how much, if any, jail time is served is up to the judge that hears the case, and is based on legal precedent and the facts of the case.
For elder financial abuse resulting in less than $950 in financial losses or property theft, the penalties can be fines up to $1,000 and/or jail time up to 1 year in county jail.
For elder financial abuse resulting in more than $950 in financial losses or property theft, and charged as a misdemeanor, the penalties include fines up to $2,500 and/or jail time up to 1 year in county jail.
For elder financial abuse resulting in more than $950 in financial losses or property theft, and charged as a felony, the penalties include fines up to $10,000 and/or jail time of 2-4 years.
Remember that whether a case with over $950 in lost property is considered a misdemeanor or a felony rests on many factors, and is ultimately up to the prosecutor and judge.
How Serious are the Criminal Charges for Financial Elder Abuse and Who Can Be Charged?
Criminal charges for elder financial abuse may not be that stiff, but it ultimately depends on the details of how the financial exploitation or theft occurred and who committed it. Those who are in positions of trust, such as caretakers or financial advisors, are going to receive more serious criminal charges and penalties than those who have no criminal background.
For the most part, misdemeanor charges are not that serious. You do not have to disclose misdemeanors on most employment or residential applications, and most of the time misdemeanor crimes do not affect a person’s life in very many ways. On the other hand, misdemeanors can still come up on some background checks, particularly those done to work with money.
Felony charges for elder financial abuse are much more serious. Felony charges typically never drop off of a criminal record. Felons do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as other US citizens. They cannot vote in national elections, and they cannot own guns. Other restrictions can apply. Felonies on a criminal record, particularly related to theft, can have a lasting negative effect on someone’s life.
Common Perpetrators Who Commit Elder Financial Abuse
Other than commercial cases, elder financial abuse cases are categorized in two ways by the state of California – caretakers and non-caretakers. Caretakers are more likely to face stiffer penalties for criminal financial elder abuse charges. Because they are in a position of trust, their crime of theft, fraud, or embezzlement are even more heinous.
Caretakers can include anyone who manages the elder’s daily life, whether that includes just managing finances or actually meeting their physical needs. Caretakers are often friends or family members, making these crimes even more harmful. At the same time, when caretakers are related and the perpetrators of financial elder abuse, criminal charges are very rare because people don’t want to send their relatives to jail or cause problems for them in the future.
In reality, anyone can be the perpetrator of elder financial abuse, but the most common culprits also include:
- Financial advisors or managers
- Employees of nursing homes or assisted living facilities
- Individuals promising services that are unnecessary and/or not provided after upfront payment has been made
- Online and email scammers practicing deception and invoking empathy of seniors for the specific purpose of getting them to fork over cash.
Anyone who has access to an elder’s home or finances is in a position to commit elder financial abuse.
What are the Legal Consequences of Committing an Act of Financial Elder Abuse?
The legal consequences of committing elder financial abuse are generally monetary and can fall under civil or criminal consequences. Civil legal consequences include being ordered to compensate the elder or their estate for the losses. Penalties could be assessed and ordered to be paid to the victim in excess of their losses if the judge warrants it. The perpetrator could have their wages garnished if they do not pay the judgment.
Criminal legal consequences are rare, but includes jail time and/or fines. The long-term consequences can be negligible or significant, depending on whether the crime is classified as a misdemeanor or a felony.
Jail Time For Financial Exploitation: How Common is it?
Jail time for financial elder abuse is not common. For the most part, the perpetrators of elder financial exploitation are friends and family members that the victim doesn’t want to see behind bars, nor do they want the crime to follow them throughout their lives. Even when criminal charges are filed, most often the result is fines rather than jail time. Even if a jail sentence is appropriate for the crime, overcrowding in county jails may result in no jail time order.
When financial elder abuse is committed by a larger entity with more resources, jail time is even more rare, although the financial compensation may be higher.
Punishment for Financial Elder Abuse in California
The State of California doesn’t give a lot of information to the public about what punishment might be meted out for elder financial abuse. While it is clear that fines and jail time are both on the table, the amount of fines and jail time are essentially up to the judge after hearing the facts of the case. As such, it can vary somewhat.
Often jail sentences are mitigated to probation with community service. This usually happens when either the jail is facing overcrowding issues, the offender has never been in trouble with the law before, and the judge feels that the offender will not repeat their crime.
When Do I Need a Financial Elder Abuse Attorney?
Filing criminal charges of elder financial abuse doesn’t help the victim or their estate recover their losses. Criminal courts deal with penalties like fines and jail time, but not civil suits. If you want to regain all of the money or property that was lost as a result of the elder financial exploitation, you need to have an experienced Financial Elder Abuse Attorney working for you.