Friday, January 20, 2017

Elder Financial Exploitation-What is it and Why is it a Problem

Like newborn babies and cute cats, elderly persons are viewed as a class that requires extra protections. However, unlike babies and cats, seniors are adults in advanced age who have lived full and productive lives. They are not revered for being cute, but instead respected for having attained what we all hope for: long life.
This is apparent even in the rate of crimes committed against seniors. According to a study by the U.S. Bureau of Justice, the rates of property and nonfatal violent crimes against elderly persons was lower than it was for individuals aged 25 to 64 between 2003 and 2013. The idea alone of causing harm to someone who is viewed as more defenseless brings about a shudder. And yet, even elderly persons are not precluded from crime.
The state of Florida has enacted laws to protect elderly persons against various forms of abuse, neglect, and exploitation. These laws are meant to defend so-called vulnerable persons, or adults whose ability to provide care or protection for themselves is impaired due to disability or age.
These laws set forth a standard of care that elderly persons are entitled to receive, while defining forms of crimes that can be punishable under specific circumstances. One such crime is elder financial exploitation.  
Elder financial exploitation is essentially obtaining or using (or working to obtain or use) an elderly person’s money, property, or assets for the benefit of another. This type of abuse must be intentional, where the abuser’s actions are committed with the intent of depriving the elderly person’s use of the assets through deception or intimidation.
In recent years, a common scam that has evolved against elderly persons involves them giving their money or credit card information to a caller who claims to be their relative or a representative of their relative. They tell the senior that they or their relative is in trouble and needs help right away. It could be that someone needs bail, an attorney, or assistance with treating an immediate injury.
The caller asks for a credit card number or a prepaid debit card, such as the Green Dot MoneyPak. There is often a haste and a request to not call other relatives. If the caller is successful, they will have swindled money out of an elderly person through deception and intimidation.
Although these types of scams have made national headlines, more often than not, the abuser is someone who is in a position of trust in the elderly person’s life, such as a family member, caregiver, neighbor, or health care worker. They use their position of power to misuse an elderly person’s property or assets for the benefit of someone other than the owner.
There are many signs to look out for that may indicate elder financial exploitation, such as:
  • A caregiver, friend, neighbor, or relative trying to isolate the elderly person from other friends and relatives.
  • Large withdrawals or transfers between bank accounts.
  • Major changes in spending patterns.
  • Increased credit card spending.
  • Excessive gifts for a caregiver, such as large sums of money or a new car.
  • Changes to deeds or titles of personal property.
  • Bills are not paid on time even though the senior has the financial resources to pay them.
  • Sudden changes to a will or estate plans.

These signs do not necessarily point to the financial exploitation of an elderly person, but they can show that funds and assets are not being used to the owner’s best interests. When viewing the fiduciary relationship between an elderly person and a caregiver, financial decisions must be made in a prudent manner. That is, using the judgment that a practical person would have when making decisions.
The concept of a prudent fiduciary is not exactly clear for a reason, but the role can be examined considering the circumstances. Take as an example the trustee who pays herself a set amount of money each month from an elderly person’s funds. Using proper judgment, we can tell that $15,000.00 a month is a hefty price for care giving, but a more modest sum of $2,000.00 is not.
The issue lies in determining whether the action taken using the elderly person’s assets was intentionally done to deprive them of its use in order to benefit another person. If a senior is having a hard time paying for his medications at the pharmacy because his caregiver was using his money to pay for renovations in her own home, there is an intentional deprivation of the seniors’ basic needs.
While Florida laws make it possible to prosecute an individual that abuses and exploits a senior financially, it also provides a route for civil action. Remedies that can be regained include actual and punitive damages caused by the abuse and exploitation.
A civil lawsuit can be brought against the abuser by the senior or her guardian, by an individual or organization representing that senior with her or her guardian’s consent, or by her court-appointed representative if she is deceased.
If you have reason to believe that an elderly person is being financially exploited, Florida law requires that you immediately report it. The state of Florida has a confidential hotline for these types of tips; the phone number is 1-800-96-ABUSE (22873).
If you or a loved one who is an elder has been financially exploited, take actions to ensure that your or your loved one’s resources are not fully depleted. This can include canceling and requesting new credit cards, changing who has access to bank accounts, and establishing a safe space for the senior. After reporting actual or suspected elder financial abuse, you should consult an experienced civil trial attorney to determine your best course of action.
At Dolman Law Group, we have a team of attorneys who are experienced in various forms of civil practice. We work hard to protect people who need protection the most. At Dolman Law, we offer all prospective clients a complimentary case evaluation, so be sure to email us through our Contact Us page or call us at (727)451-6900.

Dolman Law Group
800 North Belcher Road
Clearwater, FL 33765