Elder Exploitation: Not just for someone else’s family, friends and neighbors

I had a client, Mrs. K.,  who passed away about a year ago at age of 92.  Since she had no family I was her power of attorney and my office,  with the help of a care manager, took care of her during the last months of her life.  Mrs. K was clearly mentally compromised and likely was suffering from some form of dementia for several years.  During the time we were caring for her both in her home, nursing home and her frequent stints to the hospital, we came across a very unusual, indeed disturbing problem.

Mrs. K’s dentist continued to visit Mrs. K wherever she was residing.  At first we thought he was just a good, caring friend.  We were so wrong ! He had apparently done a full mouth of dental implants for Mrs. K totaling approximately $40,000.00.  She had paid him $10,000.00 and he was now seeking to recover the additional $30,000.00.  Our investigation and consultation with two independent dentists discovered that there had been no signed consent by Mrs. K and that in all likelihood she did not have the ability to consent nor could she have clearly understood the nature of these decisions.  We contacted the dentist and demanded that he cease and desist his contact with Mrs. K, that we were her power of attorney and that we would discuss payment if any on her behalf.  Nonetheless not only did the dentist continue to attempt to visit with Mrs. K but he also called the nursing home during her last days pretending to be her son in an attempt to recover his monies.

This is just one example of how elder exploitation rears its ugly head. Not long ago a Sarasota woman, 88 years old was so exploited by her granddaughter that by the time it was discovered, her home was in foreclosure and had been refinanced several times, she had no money in her accounts, her car had been repossessed, her home was in disarray and she had outstanding utility and cell phone bills all in her name.  In this case, the police filed complaints against the granddaughter who was found guilty of exploitation of the elderly under Florida Statutes.

It’s estimated that approximately
1 in 15 elderly people are somehow financially exploited.

Of these cases only 7 percent are reported.  The victims are often incompetent and unaware of what has occurred.    The exploiters can be ANYONE from family members (acting with or without a power of attorney), caregivers, facility staff and even as we saw before to professionals such as doctors, bankers, brokers, real estate agents, insurance people, lenders and home repair people

It is incumbent upon all of us to look for the signs of financial exploitation of the elderly.  The Dirty Dozen of these signs would be

(1)       numerous checks for cash over a short period of time,

(2)       overdrawn accounts,

(3)       new credit cards,

(4)       new bills,

(5)       numerous credit inquiries on the victim’s credit report,

(6)       absence of mail or other records,

(7)       sudden and uncharacteristic gifts by the victim to an alleged exploiter,

(8)       sudden and new **** and different friends,

(9)       victim taken to a new attorney versus the longtime attorney,

(10)     victim starts banking with a new bank,

(11)     uncharacteristic spending, and

(12)     surrender of large assets for no apparent reason.

Florida law requires the reporting of known or suspected abuse, neglect or exploitation of vulnerable adults and has created a hotline for this reporting. That means all of us are under this legal and moral obligation. The number is 1-800-96-ABUSE or 1-800-962-2873.  Reporting is confidential.

The report is passed to a division of the Department of Children and Families called Adult Protective Services.  Adult Protective Services is a system of specialized social services to assist vulnerable adults who are unable to manage their own affairs, carry out activities of daily living or protect themselves from abuse, neglect or exploitation.  When a complaint is filed an assessment of the individual’s needs for protective services will be initiated in response to the report.  The Department of Children and Families will do a thorough investigation and take appropriate action including passing the complaint on to the appropriate law enforcement authorities.  Moreover, each of the State Attorney’s offices has at least on attorney assigned to issues of elder exploitation.  Finally, legal action can and has been successfully brought against offenders to recover the exploited assets.

Please use these resources for the protection of our beloved elderly and vulnerable friends and neighbors.

Posted in Alice Reiter Feld Florida Elder Law Monday Memos

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