Is Financial Exploitation Elder Abuse?

Elderly Woman

When we work with our mothers, fathers, and grandparents to find them suitable and comfortable living arrangements where their physical, intellectual, and medical needs are met, it is common to be primarily concerned about issues such as whether the staff is properly trained and able and willing to provide food, shelter, medication, treatment, and entertainment. But one of the biggest dangers out there to residents of assisted living homes and skilled nursing facilities (as well as senior citizens who receive in-home services) is that of financial exploitation. Under California’s Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, “financial abuse” is prohibited by law and can form the basis of a lawsuit for damages against an offending employee and, in some cases, his or her employer.

What Is Financial Abuse in California?

California’s elder abuse act defines financial abuse as including:

  • Taking, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining property belonging to an elder or dependent adult for wrongful use or with intent to defraud;
  • Assisting another party in taking, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining such property for a wrongful use or intent to defraud; or
  • Using “undue influence” to take, appropriate, obtain or retain such property or assisting another party in doing so.

Essentially, this means that, where a party acts in bad faith to somehow take control of property (which can include real estate, cash, investments, jewelry, and all other types of personal property) belonging to a person 65 or older or a dependent adult, or assists another party in doing so, that person can be liable for financial abuse. Furthermore, if a person uses undue influence – which means “excessive persuasion” used to overcome a “person’s free will” – that person can be liable even if the older adult “agreed” to the transfer of a property.

Common Examples of Financial Abuse

To give some concrete examples of what this type of financial abuse looks like, here are a few of the ways financial abuse occurs in the context of elder abuse:

  • A nursing home worker taking property from a resident without consent and/or knowledge
  • An in-home worker convincing an elderly resident to give her title to the property
  • A “family friend” hiding property from an older adult in the hopes that he or she will forget it or abandon looking for it
  • An attendant convincing a senior citizen to change his or her will to include the attendant
  • A family member asking an older relative to make him the beneficiary of a life insurance policy by making false claims about other family members

These are only a few examples, and many more abound. An elder abuse attorney can assess your particular situation to determine whether it constitutes a violation of California’s elder abuse statute.

Obtaining Justice for California Residents Victimized by Financial Abuse

Victims of financial abuse age 65 or over (as well as dependent adults) can bring an action against wrongdoers under the California statute, and family members can also bring an action if the victim has deceased. In addition to bringing claims for the economic damages associated with the loss or damage to the victim’s property, a plaintiff can also sue for “enhanced damages” if the defendant acted recklessly. Such damages can include punitive damages (which can be quite significant), attorneys’ fees and costs, and pain and suffering if the victim has died.

An employer such as a nursing home or hospital can also be liable for an employee’s financial abuse of an elder care victim if the employer knew of the employee’s conduct or knew or had reason to know that the employee was unfit and presented a risk to the safety or welfare of others.

Southern California Elder Abuse Attorneys

At McCune Wright Arevalo, LLP our legal team is on the side of elder abuse victims and their families. Our attorneys have recovered over $500 million for our clients. If you suspect that you or a family member have been a victim of elder abuse, please contact McCune Wright Arevalo today at (909) 345-8110 to schedule a free consultation.

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