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Financial Abuse of the Elderly: A Growing Threat

  • July 22nd, 2003

Cases of elder financial abuse committed by family members and close friends and associates are expected to soar as the population ages, according to a CBS MarketWatch article.

With the baby boomers approach their golden years, the U.S. is on the brink of the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth in its history. Bequests are expected to total $10.4 trillion between 1990 and 2040, according to one study.

Unfortunately, there are those who can''t wait to get a piece of an inheritance. Abusers may try to have their victims declared mentally incompetent to get access to cash reserves or house deeds, or they may intimidate a relative by threatening to institutionalize her if she doesn''t sign her rights away. Others may simply live high on the hog from the assets of the elder by abusing their power of attorney. Many elders who know what''s happening to them are unwilling to go public.

Lawmakers and state officials are just waking up to the complexities of elder financial abuse. When it comes to monitoring, "elder abuse today is where child abuse was 20 years ago," says Mary Twomey, director of the elder abuse prevention program at the Institute on Aging in San Francisco.

But financial abuse of the elderly often goes unreported and can be difficult to prosecute.

Among the elder law experts quoted in the article is ElderLawAnswers president Harry Margolis, who notes that many families don''t know to call their local adult protective services, and some can''t afford to protect at-risk elders because of the extensive legal fees they can incur.

"If you want to protect someone, you really have to put up the money, Margolis said. "If what you''re alleging is actually true, then you''ll probably be reimbursed"--assuming the funds haven''t already been spent or the abuser is not destitute.

Also quoted is ElderLawAnswers member Bernard A. Krooks, a New York City elder law attorney, who notes that financial elder abuse can often develop when the children live far away and a stranger who befriends the elderly person walks away with the money.

The article offers suggestions for those who discover a family member or trusted adviser is financially exploiting an elder:

  1. Report the crime by calling your local Adult Protective Services and state attorney general''s office. File a police report.
  2. Explore options at your local probate court if your state has them. The court can intervene if someone in the family is misusing a power of attorney or the role of conservator.
  3. Contact advocacy organizations. Sites such as the www.elderabusecenter.org, a partnership of six consumer groups, and California''s www.safestate.org offer guidance on how to investigate and seek justice for elder abuse. State laws vary, but some have elder abuse statutes and may be able to get restitution for breach of fiduciary duties.
  4. Try to get a temporary restraining order while building your case.

To read the full CBS MarketWatch article, click here. (Free membership registration required.)

Local Elder Law Attorneys in Ashburn, VA

Margaret O'Reilly

Margaret A. O'Reilly, PC
Herndon, VA

Mindy Felinton

Felinton Elder Law & Estate Planning Centers
Rockville, MD

Judith Mitnick

Needham Mitnick & Pollack, PLC
Falls Church, VA


Last Modified: 07/22/2003

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