Elder financial abuse is much more common than you might think. In fact, it is probably more common than even the numbers will show. According to Consumer Affairs, about 3.5 million older adults are financially exploited each year.
Still, millions of cases go unreported, partially because the perpetrators are not identified. There are also many cases that are never pursued simply because while the suspicion of elder financial abuse is justified, not enough evidence exists to pinpoint the responsible party or how the abuse took place.
Without these important elements, your case of financial elder abuse could be difficult to make. Here is what you need to know about how to prove elder financial abuse so that your loved one or their estate can start the road to financial recovery.
Understanding Elder Financial Abuse
When most people think about elder financial abuse, they think of nursing homes or their employees scamming residents, or scammers contacting them by mail and phone to solicit funds. However, there are many other ways that the elderly can be financially exploited, including:
- Unscrupulous or unlicensed home service contractors like roofers or plumbers overcharging or requiring an advance payment never to be seen again.
- Family members or trusted associates taking advantage of Powers of Attorney and other legal arrangements to further their own financial ends.
- Friends or family members consistently taking their belongings or begging for money with no intention of repayment.
Essentially, anytime someone takes advantage of someone’s age and lack of mental acuity to profit for themselves is considered financial exploitation of the elderly.
Identifying Financial Abuse in the Elderly
Often financial abuse goes undetected until the elderly person being exploited has passed away. It may only be upon inspection and distribution of the estate that the abuse becomes noticed. By that point, it may be too late to identify the perpetrator and gather evidence.
It is important for families to be vigilant in monitoring the financial situations of their elderly. Have a third party be responsible for balancing bank statements and paying expenses so that discrepancies can be found and addressed quickly. If you suspect abuse, identifying it could be tricky and may require a complete review of all financial transactions over a period of time.
Steps to Proving Financial Elder Abuse
Before you can report financial elder abuse, you have to have some evidence that the financial exploitation occurred. There are a lot of elements of a case that must be present to prompt further investigation by the authorities and your elder financial abuse attorney. Missing any of these steps could be detrimental to your case.
1. Hire an elder financial abuse attorney.
You should not attempt to gather and present evidence of financial elder abuse on your own. Even if you know what types of evidence you need to gather and how to prove elder financial abuse, an experienced attorney has the resources and contacts to make quick work of the discovery process. Financial abuse attorneys do not charge up front, and you only pay for their services if you win a monetary judgment.
2. Prove the victim is an elder.
This is relatively easy. You will need to be able to prove the identity and age of the person who was financially exploited.
3. Identify the suspect.
This is not as easy as it sounds. For example, imagine your loved one lives in a nursing home, and you suspect financial abuse. Who is legally responsible? Is the nursing home the suspect, or the orderly that stole a book of checks?
Things can get tricky, and it often boils down to in what capacity the individual was acting. If financial abuse is perpetrated in the course of performing duties as an employee of the nursing home, then the home itself might be to blame. This is another case in which the elder financial abuse attorney can assist you.
4. Gather as much evidence as possible.
You need hard evidence to prove that the suspect exploited the senior financially. This could include bank statements, copies of processed checks, or copies of legal documents. The type of evidence you need and how you need to gather it depends in large part on the type of financial exploitation that occurred. A financial elder abuse attorney is best able to tell you where to look for evidence.
If the financial exploitation affected financial accounts or instruments, hiring an accountant to do a third party audit is usually recommended, especially if it was perpetrated by a family member or power of attorney holder.
5. Identify where and how the financial abuse took place.
This will come up as you gather evidence. You should not file a report or a case against a suspect until you have evidence of the where, how, and why.
6. Prove it is “more likely than not” that there was abuse.
Before you will be able to get your case in front of authorities or a judge, you’ll have to prove that it is more likely than not that financial elder abuse did in fact occur, where, and how.
7. Prove the suspect was mindful enough that their actions would harm the elder victim.
Generally speaking, most perpetrators of financial exploitation are well aware of their actions and how they are causing harm to their victims. However, there may be some instances in which this is not the case. For example, if the person who stole a book of checks from the nursing home resident was another resident, they would likely not be found mindful of their actions.
Don’t try to prove financial elder abuse on your own.
There are many laws and legal precedents that dictate how financial abuse against elders can be reported and recompense pursued. It is impossible for a layman to understand all of the nuances, including where and how to prove financial abuse through documentation and other means. Even though you may do most of the initial legwork on your own, especially if you want to reduce costs, you need the guidance of one of our elder financial abuse attorneys to walk you through the process and take over when the time comes.