Elder Financial Exploitation, Asset Transfer Disputes, and Probate Litigation
Unfortunately, elder financial exploitation has become a growth area in the law. As our population ages, the elderly have become targets for financial abuse and exploitation. The victims are the elderly and their family—the natural and rightful beneficiaries. Some cases involve hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of dollars.
Diminished mental capacity is the most common reason that the elderly become victims. The law requires that all persons over the age of 18 must have the mental ability to understand the nature and effect of the business transactions that they conduct. They must also understand the “natural bounty” of gifts or transfers of their assets. Put differently, does the person understand what they are doing in matters involving their finances?
The law also separately recognizes actions against those who exert “undue influence” over the aged. Put another way, did the transaction, transfer, or gift occur because someone had an unusual ability (usually because of their proximity to the aged person) to influence the transaction in a way that the aged person would not have otherwise directed?
There are many ways in which people take advantage of those with diminished mental capacity. Often it is the elderly person’s own child or grandchildren who commit these wrongful acts. But, it may also involve other persons such as caretakers, nurses, attorneys, pastors, or even newly-acquired girlfriends or boyfriends.
Abuse of Power of Attorney
The aged often will grant a loved one, or another trusted person, the power to conduct legal and financial affairs on their behalf using a “power of attorney” document. Once signed, this makes the “attorney in fact” an agent of the other. This person, the agent, owes a fiduciary duty to take action only for the benefit of the person who appointed him. But sometimes the agent does not. If the “attorney in fact” engages in self-dealing, using the “power of attorney” document to benefit himself (or herself), this is wrong, and the law provides remedies.
Embezzlement and Outright Theft
Sometimes a family member (or even merely a “friend”) will move in and take over the finances of a vulnerable, elderly person. They take over the checking accounts and credit cards, using the funds for themselves. Sometimes they will become a “joint” owner of bank accounts, gaining the ability to spend from that account. Again, the law can provide a remedy.
Change of Beneficiary Transactions
A common tactic among those who exploit the elderly is to convince that person to change their will or “transfer on death” beneficiary designations in financial accounts or life insurance policies. This can cheat rightful heirs from the benefits that their parents or grandparents intended. Again, a person must understand the nature and effect of these transactions.
If you have an elderly loved one, be on the lookout for the following:
- Sudden changes in estate plans or wills.
- Asset transfers.
- Changes in an insurance policy or financial account beneficiaries.
- Being prohibited from visiting your loved one.
- Unusual spending patterns.
- Incidents of theft of personal belongings.
- Behavioral changes such as fear or nervousness.
- New boyfriends or girlfriends, particularly those who are much younger.
We handle the following types of cases:
- Embezzled or missing assets.
- Disputes over ownership of assets.
- Validity of account and asset transfers.
- Will and trust contests.
- Disputes over powers of attorneys and wills.
We are committed to preventing elder exploitation and committed to recovering assets for those victimized by exploitation. Please call us at 740-374-5346 or fill out a contact form and we will be in touch.