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Financial Elder Abuse
Financial abuse and exploitation are among the most common forms of elder abuse. It occurs when family members, friends, caregivers, or others improperly use an older adult's money, assets, or belongings for personal gain.
Unfortunately, financial elder abuse often goes unreported and, therefore, unaddressed. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, only one in 44 financial elder abuse cases is reported and documented. Moreover, many elder financial exploitation occurs without another witness, such as in nursing homes.
If you or a loved one are a victim of financial elder abuse, the personal injury attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, can help. Our financial abuse lawyers will be your legal advocates in holding at-fault parties accountable and recovering as much of your losses as possible.
Contact our nursing home abuse lawyers at (800) 926-7565 for a free consultation.What is Elder Financial Abuse?
According to the Department of Justice elder financial exploitation statutes, elder financial abuse is the “illegal or improper use of an elderly (60 and older) adult with a disability's money, property, or other resources for monetary or personal benefit, profit or gain.
It includes but is not limited to the following:
- Theft: Taking an elder’s money or belongings without consent or permission.
- Misappropriation: Using an older adult’s name, identity, or property without permission for personal benefit, e.g., using a resident’s name and bank account to sign up for personal services.
- Fraud: Deception against an elderly person intended for personal gain, e.g., tricking an elder into believing they owe money to the government. Perpetrators of elder fraud can be family members or friends but typically involve non-relatives or strangers with access to communication with the older person.
- Deprivation of Funds: The act of withholding an older person rightful access to their money, belongings, benefits, resources, or assets, e.g., denying an elderly person access to their bank account.
Due to the severe underreporting of elder financial abuse, there is no specific number to accurately represent the scope of the problem. However, the annual loss caused by financial elder abuse is up to $36.5 billion yearly, according to the National Council on Aging (NCOA).
Furthermore, the NCOA states that financial abuse is the most common self-reported elder abuse, compared to physical, sexual, and emotional mistreatment.How Does Elder Financial Exploitation and Abuse Occur?
Adult children most frequently perpetrate elder financial exploitation. Older adults are more likely to have resources due to their pensions, accumulated wealth, and retirement savings. Sometimes, their adult children and other family members may feel entitled to these resources and pressure or manipulate the elders to surrender them.
In many elder financial abuse cases, family members take older relatives’ money and assets by:
- Forcing or manipulating the elderly family member to modify their will (or make a new one favoring the abuser)
- Using the elder’s money, bank accounts, or credit cards without permission
- Stealing cash and belongings
- Forcing or tricking an elder into signing over ownership of properties, vehicles, stocks, and other assets
- Stealing and selling an older person’s belongings, such as jewelry, cars, electronics, etc.
- Cutting the elder’s access from their bank accounts, credit cards, stock portfolio, will, etc.
- Abusing a power of attorney to gain wrongful access to the elder’s assets
However, elderly financial abuse can also occur in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and other long-term care establishments. More so, nursing home staff that commit elder financial abuse are more likely to get away with it than an elder’s relatives, as most cases go undetected.
Below are some of the most common ways nursing home employees exploit vulnerable adults:
- Using an older person’s money, bank cards, and checkbooks without permission
- Charging a resident for unnecessary service, medication, or treatment without the resident’s consent
- Stealing an elder’s cash or valuables
- Writing and forging fraudulent checks
Aside from relatives and long-term care staff, financial caregivers can also commit elder financial abuse, including a power of attorney, financial planners, financial advisors, and conservators. It can also occur from neighbors, friends, social workers, etc.
Financial predators also worsen the problem by preying on the vulnerable elderly. Unfortunately, many older adults fall victim to scams perpetrated by strangers, such as:
- Forming a romantic relationship (either online or in person) with an elder to steal their money, assets, property, etc. (romance scams)
- Tricking an older adult to send money online by posing as tech support (tech support scams)
- Convincing an elder that they have to pay to win a prize (lotteries & sweepstakes scams)
- Manipulating an older adult to send money by pretending to be a government official (government impersonation scams)
People age 60 and above often have accumulated wealth from their life savings, employment benefits, investments, and assets. These resources make them prime targets for financial exploitation by their children and other family members, caregivers, and strangers. However, even low-income seniors can become victims.
Furthermore, people at an advanced age are more likely to have mental functioning problems and degenerative diseases, such as dementia, which make them more vulnerable to manipulation and intimidation. Additionally, these age-related issues limit a person’s ability to make sound financial decisions, increasing the risk of exploitation and fraud.
Limited knowledge of technology and the internet contribute to financial elder abuse. Many older adults are unfamiliar with modern technology and often have trouble using it. Hence, they are prime targets for online scams and financial fraud, usually done by professionals who specifically prey on the elderly.
Moreover, many elder abuse victims cannot speak up against the mistreatment. Some people are physically or mentally unable to report their abusers; others are reluctant for fear of consequences, such as losing their independence.
“If your caregiver is abusing you, if you turn them in, what are you going to do?” Julie Schoen, the National Center on Elder Abuse deputy director, told Forbes Advisor. “Does that mean you’re going to lose your independence?”Warning Signs of Financial Elder Abuse
Elder abuse can be challenging to recognize, financial abuse even more so. Hence, family members must be vigilant of an elder’s finances, assets, and financial decisions to protect them from abuse and exploitation.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), common warning signs of elder financial abuse include:
- Unexplained withdrawals from the elder’s bank accounts using their ATM cards
- Abrupt or uncharacteristic changes in the older adult’s will and other financial documents
- Stolen money and missing valuables
- Unexplained transactions on the elder’s credit cards
- Forged signatures on checks, transfers of titles, wills, and other financial documents
- New names on the older adult’s bank signature card
- Sudden changes in financial habits
- Possessive or controlling behavior of a relative or friend over an older person
- The sudden transfer of assets to a non-relative
- Past due notices, unpaid bills, and collection agency letters despite the elder’s adequate financial capacity
- Sudden stress or worry about money
- Notices from banks, credit unions, and other financial institutions expressing suspicions of elder financial abuse
Elder financial abuse costs victims billions of dollars annually and they are often left to suffer severe consequences, such as:
- Lack of Quality Care: Financial exploitation can leave elders bankrupt and unable to obtain quality health care.
- Illness and Premature Death: People with inadequate care are more susceptible to health decline due to unmanaged or untreated diseases. Their mortality rate also increases.
- Malnutrition and Dehydration: Depriving an elder of their own resources can lead to a lack of proper nutrition and hydration, which, in turn, can cause significant health consequences (e.g., recurring illnesses, nutrient deficiencies).
- Poor Quality of Life: Insufficient care caused by elder financial abuse can lead to a poor quality of life, often characterized by untreated pain (and other symptoms), loss of independence, poor hygiene, social isolation.
- Poor Mental Health: Elder financial abuse victims often experience grief, regret, self-loathing, and fear of the future due to losing money or assets, which can extend to mental health problems, such as depression and anxiety.
- Financial Hardship for the Family: Losing an elder’s property can affect the whole family. For instance, the rest of the family may have to pay for the elder’s medical bills and funeral costs, which the lost money would have covered. Furthermore, children and spouses may lose their inheritance, potentially causing further financial hardship for the entire family.
Reporting elder financial abuse in a nursing home is the best way to prevent further losses for your loved one and protect other residents from fraud and exploitation.
According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), you can file a report if you suspect financial abuse against an older person, even if it is not yet confirmed. Nursing home residents, families, staff members, visitors, and concerned citizens can report cases to the following organizations:Adult Protective Services
Adult Protective Services (APS) program helps protect elderly and disabled adults from abuse. It receives complaints about all kinds of elder abuse, including physical, emotional, mental, sexual, and financial.
All 50 states have a local APS program. If you, a family member, or another elderly individual is being financially exploited, contact Adult Protective Services at 833-577-6532.Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program
Like APS, every state has a Long-Term Care Ombudsman (LTCO) program, which helps protect long-term care facility residents' rights, health, and well-being. If you suspect financial exploitation or abuse in a nursing home, you can file a report to your state LTCO office.Local Law Enforcement
You can also report financial abuse to the local police, who will investigate your claim and file charges against the perpetrator, if applicable. Some state laws define elder financial abuse as a specific crime, making them punishable by criminal law.
Financial elder abuse may also involve other crimes, such as theft, embezzlement, forgery, fraud, and money laundering.National Elder Fraud Hotline
The Department of Justice created the National Elder Fraud Hotline to protect elders from material and financial exploitation and abuse. The service is available for free to everyone and provides personalized services from case managers.
You can report financial elder abuse by calling 833–372–8311, available Monday to Friday, 10 AM to 6 PM (Eastern time).How Do You Prove Elderly Financial Abuse?
Sufficient proof is necessary to take your loved one’s abuser to court or file a personal injury claim against the long-term care facility. The following may serve as viable evidence of elder financial abuse:
- Unpaid bills, poor nursing care, and other signs of deprivation despite the resident’s adequate finances
- Bank statements containing unauthorized withdrawals, sudden changes in account information, etc.
- Photo or video evidence of theft, if available
- Witness testimony from family members, caregivers, and other residents
- Expert testimony
- Elder’s account of financial abuse
Some states have comprehensive guidelines for recovering money or assets lost to elder financial exploitation or abuse. Usually, the punishment for perpetrators is to return the stolen funds or assets (and interests or earnings accrued while they were stolen). The process does not have to involve the court unless the abuser refuses to comply.
However, it can be difficult to recover lost assets if your state lacks specific guidelines. Furthermore, the abuser may have already spent the money or sold the stolen assets. In elder financial abuse cases like these, you can hold another entity accountable apart from the abuser.
Nursing facilities are legally obligated to protect residents from elder abuse, including fraud and financial exploitation. They must also respect every resident’s right to manage their financial matters.
If a nursing home staff member committed elder financial abuse, you could hold the facility responsible for failing to prevent it. Our financial abuse attorneys can help you pursue damages against the home by filing a personal injury claim or financial abuse lawsuit.
The legal process for elder financial abuse:
- Case Investigation. Your attorney will examine your elder financial abuse claim and analyze the facts. Our lawyers recommend gathering as much information about the incident as possible to aid case analysis.
- Personal Injury Claim. Your financial abuse lawyer can file a claim with the facility’s insurance company on your behalf.
- Negotiation. The insurance company may send you a compensation offer. In this case, your lawyer can negotiate for a fair settlement.
If negotiations are successful, the nursing home’s insurance company will send you a compensation offer. Otherwise, your lawyer can help you take your elder financial abuse case to civil court.
This process will involve:
- Elder Financial Abuse Lawsuit. Your lawyer will file your case with the appropriate court. The nursing facility must respond to the lawsuit or automatically lose the case.
- Discovery. In this phase, both parties gather evidence to support their cases.
- Settlement. The defendant (the facility or the individual at fault) may agree to pay a settlement in exchange for not going to court.
- Litigation. If parties cannot settle the matter out of court, your elder financial abuse case may go to trial. The judge or jury will hear evidence from both sides and decide a verdict.
Elderly people are especially vulnerable to fraud and exploitation. If you have a loved one in a facility, you could help protect them from financial elder abuse with the following tips:
- Establish a power of attorney. An elderly individual can give someone they trust a power of attorney. That appointee can help the elder make financial choices when they can no longer do so independently.
- Monitor bank information. Watch for warning signs of financial elder abuse, such as large withdrawals or strange purchases.
- Technology and internet education. Help protect your loved one from online financial abuse by teaching them how to use the internet safely.
- Be wary of financial caregivers. Watch out for warning signs of exploitation if your loved one has financial advisors, will attorneys, investment consultants, and other financial caregivers.
The American Bankers Association (ABA) and NCEA have more information on elder financial abuse prevention on their websites.
If you think someone is financially abusing your loved one, report financial abuse immediately to the local police or government agencies.Talk to One of Our Financial Elder Abuse Attorneys Today
Elder financial abuse is a growing problem, especially with the rise of modern technology and social media. Unfortunately, this severely unaddressed issue is leaving many of our elders penniless.
If you or a loved one experienced financial abuse in a nursing facility, don’t hesitate to take legal action. Our financial abuse attorneys at Nursing Home Law Center, LLC, help victims hold negligent facilities accountable and recover damages through an out-of-court settlement or litigation.
Call our financial abuse lawyers at (800) 926-7565 or use the contact form for a free case review. All confidential or sensitive information you share with our legal team will remain private under an attorney-client relationship.
Our attorneys handle all accepted elder financial abuse cases on a contingency fee basis. This agreement ensures you don’t have to pay our legal fees unless we win your case.Resources: