Elder abuse is the physical abuse, neglect, isolation, or financial abuse of a dependent adult or a person over age sixty-five. Social isolation, the lack of close friends and family, diminished mental capacity or dementia, physical disability, or dependence on caregivers can make an elder or dependent adult susceptible to elder abuse. Caregivers and professional con men often commit elder abuse, but, sadly, family members are the most common culprits.
We Stand for Victims of Elder Abuse & Neglect in the Bay Area
Our elder abuse attorneys represent victims of elder abuse and defend clients wrongfully accused of elder abuse. We represent clients throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, including Oakland, Danville, and Walnut Creek.
Don’t be Ashamed
If you hire us, we’d tell you, first, that you should not be ashamed—elder abuse is an “epidemic” that costs seniors $2.9 billion annually, according to Senator Susan Collins, who heads the Senate Special Commission on Aging.
Second, we’d note that con men have defrauded even sophisticated investors. According to Forbes, several billionaires and foundations were among Bernie Madoff’s victims.
What is Financial Elder Abuse?
California Welfare and Institutions Code §15610.30 defines financial elder abuse:
(a) “Financial abuse” of an elder of dependent adult occurs when a person or entity does any of the following:
- Takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud or both.
- Assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining or retaining real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud or both.
- Takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains, or assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining, real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult by undue influence, as defined in Section 1575 of the Civil Code.
(b) A person or entity shall be deemed to have taken, secreted, appropriated, obtained or retained property for a wrongful use if, among other things, the person or entity takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains or retains the property and the person or entity knew or should have known that this conduct is likely to be harmful to the elder or dependent adult.
Elder Abuse Restraining Orders
In some elder abuse cases, our elder abuse lawyers must act immediately to separate the victim from the abuser. Maybe the abuser has unfettered access to the victim’s funds, the victim needs immediate medical care, or the abuser appears to be changing the victim’s estate plan to make themselves the beneficiary. In these circumstances, our elder abuse attorneys may try to obtain elder abuse restraining orders.
An elder abuse restraining order is a court order prohibiting the abuser from doing one or more of the following to the elder:
- Physically abuse, financially abuse, intimidate, molest, attack, assault (sexually or otherwise), hit, follow, stalk, threaten, harass, destroy personal property, keep under surveillance, or block movements.
- Contact (directly or indirectly), telephone, send messages, mail, or email.
- Take any action to obtain the address or location of the [protected person] or of that person’s family or caretakers.
The order may also include “stay-away” orders requiring the abuser to stay a certain distance away from the protected person and their caregivers.
Under California Welfare and Institutions Code §15657.03, when an elder has suffered financial abuse, a restraining order may be sought “to restrain any person for the purpose of preventing a recurrence of abuse, if an affidavit shows, to the satisfaction of the court, reasonable proof of a past act or acts of abuse.”
These orders are powerful tools because they can sometimes be obtained without notice to the abuser. This is important because the victim could be exposed to physical or financial harm if the abuser learns of pending legal action against them while the victim is under their care and control. If the abuser resides with the victim, the order may also require the abuser to leave the residence. The abuser may also have to sell or surrender to police their firearms within 24 hours.
Elder abuse restraining orders can also be obtained based solely on the affidavits of witnesses, with no extensive discovery, such as depositions or subpoenas for financial or medical records. (Once a temporary restraining order is obtained, it is often necessary to conduct discovery to keep the order in place under a preliminary injunction.)
When an elder abuse restraining order is appropriate, our elder abuse attorneys interview the witnesses—typically caregivers, family, friends, or neighbors—and write an account of what they saw or heard that raised suspicions of elder abuse. Once the witnesses have verified the accuracy of these written accounts, we prepare declarations or affidavits for filing with the court along with the pleadings and forms used to obtain the orders.
In some circumstances, our elder abuse lawyers are asked to defend a client who was been wrongfully accused of elder abuse. If you have been served with notice of a hearing on an elder abuse restraining order against you, it is imperative that you hire an attorney before the hearing on the restraining order.
Our Elder Abuse Cases
Our elder abuse lawyers have handled many elder abuse cases, including financial elder abuse, fraud, neglect, and physical abuse. Some of our representative cases are described below.
A woman who claimed to be the grandchild of a 109-year-old victim forged 48 checks totaling more than $880,000 from the accounts of the victim and her 90-year-old son. She also had an attorney create an estate plan giving both victims’ estates to her. (The attorney was later convicted in an unrelated matter of conspiracy to commit forgery and disbarred.)
The daughter of an elderly man hired us when she learned that her father’s fourth wife had persuaded him to transfer about $15 million in cash and real estate to her and her family. At the time of these transactions, her father suffered from severe short-term memory loss.
The daughter of a 91-year-old woman persuaded her mother to pay the expenses of the daughter’s “friend” whom she claimed to have met on the internet but never seen in person. The daughter persuaded her mother to place five mortgages on her home to help the “friend” with her financial problems, wiping out all the equity in her home.
Our elder abuse lawyers protected an 89-year-old Danville widow from elder abuse at the hands of her 47-year-old grandson, who was also her caregiver. Barr & Young obtained elder abuse restraining orders, and an award of attorneys’ fees and costs against the abuser.
While in a dementia facility, an elderly woman discovered that her daughter was emptying her bank accounts. The daughter used a power of attorney and her mother’s diagnosis of dementia to transfer her mother’s money from one bank account to another, and withdrew most of the balance. The daughter also cleared-out her mother’s home, disposing of her clothes, furniture, photographs, and other tangible personal property.
A long-time caregiver abused a 94-year-old Martinez man who could not walk, bathe, eat or drink, take medications, prepare meals, clean or dress himself, get in bed, or use the bathroom without assistance. The victim had a history of serious medical conditions, and required round the clock care. The caregiver would leave him alone for several hours at a time and permit him to drink too much alcohol. Our elder abuse attorneys also alleged that she capitalized on his incapacity by taking control of his finances and becoming a beneficiary of his trust through undue influence.
An 87-year-old Walnut Creek woman unable to drive a car or use a computer was victimized by her caregiver, on whom she relied to take her to church, medical appointments, and shopping. The abuser used the victim’s credit cards and ATM to make unauthorized purchases, cash withdrawals, and online purchases. Our elder abuse attorneys obtained summary judgment against the abuser for financial elder abuse, fraud and deceit, conversion, and invalid donative transfers. The summary judgment motion awarded damages of at least $380,000 for the actual monetary damages and punitive damages of three times the actual damages. The abuser filed bankruptcy before the hearing to establish damages.
How to Prevent Elder Abuse
- If you are an elder, try to stay socially engaged with family and close friends, and keep them informed of your physical and mental condition and the status of your legal and financial affairs. Family and friends should visit or call often, always looking for changes in the elder’s mood and mental capacity.
- Do a thorough background check on any caregivers allowed in the home. Obtain the written permission of the caregiver and pay for a professional background check.
- Only rely on longstanding financial and legal advisors. It should be deeply concerning if an elder works with a new lawyer, financial advisor, or accountant late in life. If an elder ends a long-standing relationship with an advisor, family should ask why.
- Elders should consider resigning as trustee of their trust. This is hard for most people—to recognize that they are getting older and will someday soon be unable to manage their finances. But many cases of elder abuse would be avoided if more elders turned the management of their financial affairs over to their children before they showed signs of dementia or diminished capacity. By doing so, the elder’s major financial assets are retitled in the name of their successor trustee. This makes it impossible for a predator to gain control of the elder’s assets without the successor trustee’s knowledge.
- Program the elder’s phone to identify all callers by name. If the elder does not recognize the caller they should not answer the phone.
- Elder abuse attorneys often advise family and friends to “look, listen, and smell” every time they visit. Look for signs of physical abuse, including bruising, weight loss, burns, bedsores, or a loss of mobility. Always look in the refrigerator and cupboards. Are they clean and well-stocked? Has any food expired? Is the food appropriate for the elder, or the caregiver? Listen patiently for longer than you think is necessary. Elders with diminished capacity often “mask” their impairment. They may return to topics they are most familiar with or tell a joke rather than answer a direct question. Often only an extended conversation will reveal that an elder is slipping. Be alert for any foul odors from the kitchen, bathroom, or the elder themselves, which could be signs of rotting food, unsanitary conditions, or a problem with incontinence or toileting.
- A report to Adult Protective Services is often necessary, but victims of abuse should not rely only on the police or APS. According to the San Francisco Examiner:
“[Elder] abuse in San Francisco rose by 33 percent from 2014 to 2015, but police investigations into such crimes have been in decline in recent years because of a consolidated and paired down unit tasked with looking into such matters.”
- Above all, friends and family should be present as much as possible. It’s hard for an elder abuser to operate when loved ones are constantly calling and visiting, and it’s much less likely that an elder will become dependent on an abuser if they know they can always depend on family and friends.
If you or a loved one are the victim of elder abuse, or want to discuss was to protect an elder from elder abuse, our elder abuse lawyers are available for a free initial consultation.