Elder Financial Abuse
California has gone to great lengths to protect vulnerable senior citizens against financial abuse. Seniors are particularly susceptible to manipulation as they are at higher risk for dementia and more likely to be isolated. Some seniors are so eager to interact with others that they can be manipulated. Unfortunately, some interactions lead to abuse, amounting to financial losses in the thousands or even tens of thousands of dollars.
Legal Assistance for Elder Financial Abuse
Our attorneys are proud to put California’s elder abuse law into practice. The state was one of the first in the nation to implement expansive protections for senior citizens and dependent adults. Enacted more than 40 years ago, the state’s EADACPA empowers state residents to retain legal counsel to pursue claims of elder abuse, including financial manipulation. Often, the quality of a victim’s attorney dictates whether the outcome of the case is just.
However, seniors and their loved ones are usually aware they’ve been wronged yet do not understand there is an avenue for legal recourse. Every California senior citizen and state resident should understand the definition of elder financial abuse and recognize it as a legitimate threat.
How California Defines Elder Financial AbuseState law defines seniors as those who are 65 and older. California law defines elder financial abuse with a three-pronged definition, including a qualifier. In general, the taking of property, including money, is financial abuse. However, the taking of property extends beyond physically removing property from a senior. California elder financial abuse law punishes those who deprive a senior or dependent adult of property rights, even if the property is held by a representative.
The burden of proof falls on the victim’s attorney. The attorney must prove the individual or entity accused of taking the property was aware or should have been aware that the conduct would likely lead to harm to the senior or dependent adult.
The definition of financial abuse extends to the act of assisting in procuring the personal or real property of a senior or dependent adult with the intent to defraud that person or use the property wrongly. Personal property is defined as property that is not real estate. Examples of personal property include cash and investments. In contrast, real property is a structure constructed on land.
Even exerting undue influence has the potential to fall under the umbrella of elder financial abuse. Threats, manipulation and other forms of unjustified influence that affect the victim’s decision-making will be used against the defendant in court.
Examples of Elder Financial Abuse in CaliforniaAny form of embezzlement, theft of money, or theft of another form of property is financial abuse. The mismanagement of a senior’s money or assets also qualifies as financial abuse. Even failing to pay a senior’s bills when responsible for doing so can lead to a financial abuse claim. In fact, not buying the items necessary for the senior’s continued existence and quality of life is also illegal. Those responsible for purchasing such essentials, be it medication, food or clothing, must do so or face legal consequences.
Moreover, even a single unauthorized alteration to a senior’s will or power of attorney constitutes abuse. Though quite brazen, thieves and abusive relatives sometimes make unauthorized ATM withdrawals or purchases using seniors’ credit cards. Such acts constitute senior fraud and abuse.
Many seniors are excited to receive a phone call or visitor. However, such interactions have the potential to backfire. Telemarketers and even door-to-door sales professionals can take advantage of seniors. In particular, lonely seniors and those saddled by dementia are especially vulnerable.
California seniors who’ve branched out to the internet should be aware that the web is chock full of predators, including fraudsters, who have the elderly in their crosshairs. Some such solicitors will request money for a charity but pocket the contribution. Others concoct illegal sweepstakes schemes to steal entrants’ money. Some have gone to the extent of going door-to-door, offering leaf raking, tree trimming, painting, and other services only to take the money and run.
California senior fraud even extends to credit card repair and insurance fraud. Someone who reaches out to a senior and makes false promises to repair the elder’s credit rating or offers fake insurance for credit card protection is considered a fraudster.
Though few know it, real estate predatory lending to seniors is becoming more common and also constitutes abuse. If one offers a senior a loan knowing he or she cannot repay it or locks a senior into a burdensome balloon payment loan, that predator is also an abuser.
California's Definition of Elders and Dependent AdultsThough we’ve defined elders as those living in the state of California who are age 65 and older, we haven’t highlighted what the state considers to be a dependent adult. Dependent adults are residents of California between the ages of 18 and 64 with mental or physical limitations that prevent them from participating in normal activities or protecting their rights.
Californians will also find it interesting that the state’s definition of dependent adult includes those whose mental or physical capabilities have declined as a result of age. From the state’s perspective, what matters most is that the disability puts a limitation on meaningful life activities. Examples of such activities include self-grooming, engaging in manual tasks, speaking, hearing, seeing, and working.
Taking and Wrongfully Using PropertyLet’s shift our analysis to what the state defines as “taking” and “wrongfully using” property. It must be proven that the property was taken and wrongfully used. The state considers property to be taken when the senior citizen or dependent adult is deprived of his or her right to the property in question.
The state defines wrongful use as when the defendant knows, or should have known, that the manipulative act would prove harmful to the plaintiff. Even if wrongful use cannot be proven, proof of the defendant’s intent to defraud the plaintiff will help prove abuse occurred.
The fairly broad scope of the words “taking” and “wrongfully using” as described above is to the advantage of California senior citizens. As a result, financial abuse laws are applicable to all situations where organizations or individuals take financial advantage of a state resident who is either age 65 or older or a dependent adult.
Whether a senior or a loved one has been wronged by an insurance provider, financial institution, real estate developer, medical professional, or caretaker, it is an injustice. Our California elder law advocates will help prove abuse occurred and obtain financial compensation.
Seeking Justice After Elder Financial AbuseLosing money to a manipulator is embarrassing and ruins the monthly budget. However, manipulated seniors are not alone during this difficult chapter of life. Instead of assuming the loss is one’s own fault, it is better to take action by scheduling an initial consultation with our California elder abuse attorneys for a case evaluation. If there is even a slight suspicion that a person or institution has defrauded a senior out of money or property, our attorneys will gather evidence and pursue justice.
Elder financial abuse in California can be either a misdemeanor. The value of the property or money stolen determines the penalty. The charge is a misdemeanor if the value of the money or property stolen is $950 or less. If the value exceeds $950, the charge might be both a felony and misdemeanor or strictly a felony. The distinction is vital as a felony is a lifelong stain on the defendant’s record. The penalty for felony senior fraud is as follows:
- Formal probation
- Two to four years in prison
- $10,000 fine
- A strike on one’s record
However, if the value of the money or property stolen is less than $950, the defendant will face a maximum of a $1,000 fine, a maximum of a year in county jail, and probation.
We would be remiss to gloss over the fact that some elder financial abuse California cases aren’t complex. In some cases, there is video footage, eyewitness testimony or other evidence proving someone stole cash out of a senior’s purse or wallet. Other cases lack such evidence or are characterized by more complex manipulation. Our senior law attorneys embrace financial abuse cases regardless of their complexity.
The EADACPA is comprehensive to the point that it provides remedies extending beyond the money lost during the elder’s financial abuse. If the case results in a victory or settlement, money can be provided to cover the cost of the following:
- Attorneys’ fees
- Compensatory damages
- Additional related costs
- Punitive damages, which are meant to punish the abuser for the wrongdoing
A failed attempt to financially abuse a senior is also against the law. The attempted financial abuse of an elder results in half the time spent in jail or prison after conviction and half the fine of a conviction.
Working With an AttorneyIf you know or suspect you or a family member have been victimized, contact our elder law team today. We’ll review your case, determine if there is solid legal footing for a lawsuit and fiercely advocate on your behalf in and out of court.
Meet with us and you’ll find we have a genuine passion for protecting the rights of California seniors and consumers. Give us a call today at 1-877-421-9759 to schedule a case review. Our San Francisco office is conveniently located at 354 Pine Street. Our Los Angeles office is located at 355 South Grand Avenue.