Daniel Williams, Esq.
As people age, they are increasingly at risk to develop cognitive impairments or suffer from dementia and Alzheimer’s. Recent studies have estimated around 11% of Americans aged 65 or older have Alzheimer’s. As those diseases progress, the person suffering from them loses the ability to do daily tasks and to care for their financial needs.
When those persons begin to exhibit problematic financial behavior, it may be a sign that they are in need of either someone to take power of attorney or to have a guardianship and conservatorship in place to allow someone else to look after those everyday needs.
While those processes are important and necessary, there is also the possibility of exploitation as well. Since Americans over the age of 50 control over 70% the nation’s wealth, they are a highly-valued target for scammers. The common fear for persons suffering from dementia and Alzheimer’s disease is that they are susceptible to phone scammers and home-visits from strangers who use phony stories of tragedy and empty-promises to swindle victims.
While these predators will continue to be a cause of concern as the technology boom creates new opportunities for exploitation, they are not the only ones we should worry about. There is another set of individuals whose familiar face and established relationship allow them to operate undetected.
This group, of course, is the family members of the victims. In some instances, it is the person holding power of attorney, or who has been appointed guardian and conservator who tries to take advantage of their elderly, and disabled family member. According to the National Council on Aging, in elder abuse cases with known perpetrators, 90% are family members.
The amount of abuse and exploitation done by family members to an elderly or disabled person is substantial and is terribly underreported. A conservative estimate places the total financial loss due to theft/deceit enabled by a trusting relationship at $6.6 Billion per year. If all abuse was uncovered, this amount would be significantly higher.
Many times, even when the abuse is discovered, there is a lack of desire to use the court process, in all of its forms, criminal, civil and probate, to try and recover the lost assets and to enforce criminal sanctions for the conduct. It is estimated that for every one case of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation, about 5 more go unreported. The simple fact is, there is no reason that anyone, including a family member, can simply be left to take care of another person without being watched.
There are pros and cons to both Powers of Attorney and guardianships and conservatorships. However, it is important that more than one person keep an eye on how the persons in those capacities are handling mom and dad’s money, once they are unable to do it for themselves any longer.
There are criminal and civil remedies that can be implemented to try and recover and punish persons who exploit the elderly. As a former Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor, I was assigned to the Elder Abuse Unit and saw more than my share of financial exploitation cases. Most of the Defendants that I dealt with in that arena were family members, or persons that the victim trusted. While there are criminal charges that can be levied against the offenders, there are also civil remedies as well, which provide an avenue by which the aggrieved elder can be made whole and obtain a money judgment to hopefully have their finances restored.
If you suspect that a family member has been the victim of elder abuse or financial exploitation, the attorneys at Fausone Bohn, LLP have the experience and knowledge to ensure that justice can be obtained on your behalf.