Archive for Elder Abuse
ELDER ABUSE: A SCARY STORY FROM AUSTRALIA
In our last newsletter, we wrote about potential issues for a dutiful child caring for an elderly parent, but what about the risk that the caretaker child is neglectful or even abusive? This week we wanted to share a truly horrifying tale of an Australian woman’s failure to care for her elderly mother.
Cynthia Thoresen, as many aging widows do, moved into her adult daughter’s house when living alone became too daunting. The daughter, Marguerite, obtained a government benefit to help with Cynthia’s care, which became her only income. A couple of years later, Marguerite stopped taking her mother to doctors and filling her prescriptions. Already Marguerite is not looking like the dutiful caretaker child, but it gets much worse.
Sometime in November 2008, Cynthia fell in the house and broke her leg. When Marguerite finally called an ambulance approximately 3 weeks later, Cynthia was screaming from the pain. We will spare you the gory details of Cynthia’s condition, except to say that she had lain in bed with a broken leg and without any medical care or personal hygiene all that time. Cynthia died in the hospital a few weeks later from a blood clot caused by the broken leg.
Shockingly, Marguerite has not faced any legal consequences for her mother’s death. What is even more appalling is that she claimed to have been honoring Cynthia’s wishes by keeping her out of a nursing home. Although no plan can guarantee against elder abuse, we believe that thorough disability planning (legal, financial, and practical) can significantly limit opportunities for such horrific neglect.
LAWYER’S BEHAVIOR AT TRIAL IS NOT EVIDENCE OF ELDER ABUSE
Here is an interesting case from California that caught our attention. An 83 year old man filed for a protective order against his 56 year old daughter because of alleged abusive treatment. In the court hearing over the matter, the daughter’s attorney’s confrontational cross-examinationof the elderly gentleman was found by the trial court to be consistent with the daughter’s desire to treat her father in such a fashion. He then granted a protective order which stated that the daughter could not contact, molest, attack, strike, threaten, assault or otherwise disturb the peace of her father. The daughter appealed the case arguing that her attorney’s behavior and her lack of response to it should not be used as evidence by the trial court. The appellate court agreed and said that the trial judge was wrong to base his decision on the lawyer’s conduct.
While this decision is good news for us lawyers, it does highlight the fact that we are too often aggressive and confrontational, particularly in guardianship, probate, and other elder law cases. It is important that all lawyers recognize when in the probate court that we are not trying high profile criminal or personal injury matters. We are involved in disputes among family members where emotions are already running high and we should avoid making matters worse. We can represent our clients effectively in elder law matters without being either abusive or confrontational.
THE VALUE OF CONSISTENT PLANNING
With the Walk to End Alzheimer’s coming up this weekend and National Long-Term Care Awareness Month starting today, elder law is on our minds. So, this is the perfect time to share an elder law story that illustrates the value, and importance, of consistent planning.
Our client, “Diana”, thought that her father, “Fred”, had taken care of his disability planning by executing a power of attorney, naming Diana as his agent, several years ago. However, when Diana’s mother, “Mary”, died, Mary’s former caregiver took control of Fred and his affairs. The caregiver introduced Fred to an attorney who revoked the power of attorney to Diana and drafted a new power of attorney, as well as other documents, in favor of the caregiver.
Diana was forced to spend a significant amount of money to go to guardianship court to fight for the right to help her father take care of himself. The caregiver has isolated Fred from his family and tells him awful lies about his daughter. She may even have influenced Fred to change his estate plan. This is a dire scenario, but unfortunately not an uncommon one.
We include comprehensive disability planning documents in our estate planning packages as a matter of course. More importantly, we have our clients re-execute all of their documents every two years so that we build a record of consistency. If Fred had given a power of attorney to Diana in 2006, 2008, and 2010, his intent would be clear and the court likely would have thrown out the new power of attorney early on, allowing Diana to protect Fred and his assets from the predatory caregiver.
BEWARE OF SCAMS TARGETING THE ELDERLY
As estate planning and elder law attorneys, one of our primary goals is to educate our clients and community about how they can protect themselves and their assets. This newsletter will share and expand upon a recent article about con artists who target senior citizens. The Associated Press reports that “elder financial abuse” has become an “industry” that brings in billions of dollars each year. This form of elder abuse includes fraud perpetrated by relatives and acquaintances as well as scams run by complete strangers. The outsider-run cons can be particularly devastating, both financially and emotionally, because they are so effectively targeted at older individuals and very difficult to trace back to their often international origins.
One common scam involves a con artist calling a targeted person and claiming to be his or her grandchild. The impostor then says that (s)he is facing some sort of crisis, often abroad, and needs the potential victim to wire money immediately, and without telling anyone else in the family. Another way that scammers prey on senior citizens is with correspondence claiming that the potential victim has won a lottery, usually in another country, but must send money to cover fees and taxes in order to receive the prize money.
We have met real victims of the two scams described above. One woman actually had a grandchild living outside the United States and so wired a few thousand dollars to a foreign country. Another victim received calls and letters that she had won the lottery in a country she had never visited, as well as correspondence from a psychic stating that she would soon be wealthy, and was conned into sending several thousand dollars to claim the fake prize.
Please be aware that these scams are out there and that con artists are getting better at targeting their victims all the time. If you would like more information on protecting yourself or your loved ones from becoming a victim, we are here to help. For the full Associated Press article, click here: