By Michael P. Ehline, Esq. – A lot of stuff coming out of NY and California lately in the senior citizen abuse realm. Here is one about a lawyer and client conspiring to steal for a senior. New York socialite Anthony D. Marshall was convicted of defrauding and stealing from his elderly mother, philanthropist Brooke Astor, in what was called the “swindle trial.” 1 There were detailed reports on how Marshall conspired with attorney Francis Morrissey in amending Brooke Astor’s will in his favor, to gain millions without his mother’s consent. He took valuable paintings off of the walls in her Park Avenue home, while she suffered. The evidence revealed a pattern of greed, neglect, misfeasance, non feasance and malfeasance. Incidentally, in California, financial abuse of seniors, is mentioned often in the news2, including financial abuse of the elderly. 3 This is not limited to New York by any means.
California Family Member Financial Abuse
Another story mentioned in Consumer Reports, is that that of Elise Brooks, a 72 year old who sold her mobile home and moved in with her daughter and granddaughter, in Monterey, California. She allegedly then decided that she did not want to handle her finances any longer, and decided to permit her daughter and granddaughter to have control of her finances. Some elders do this with their attorneys as well. In any event, the facts showed that her daughter, Lisa Karen MacAdams, and granddaughter Christi Schoenbachler, financially ruined Brooks by siphoning off all of her money. 4 They drained her of an annuity, worth approximately $90,000, her jewelry and furniture, if this wasn’t enough, then they dumped her in a nursing facility. Mother and daughter were both convicted of grand theft and financial abuse, which are both felonies, then they were also convicted of two counts of misdemeanor elder abuse. During the summer, the California court of appeal stayed one of the misdemeanor charges Schoenbachler was charged with. Ventura, California Superior Court Judge Colleen Toy White said financial abuse is the “ultimate betrayal.” 5 These cases are among the worst types there are.
Examples of Other Scams
Scams by strangers involving the elderly, such as an e mail that the elderly person won a free vacation, or Somali scams6, including but not limited to fraudulent sweepstake phone calls, investments and grandparent scams are often heard about. What is far worse and not as commonly heard about is the deception by neighbors, friends, employees and relatives. The people most entrusted to provide protection and care for seniors. This kind of abuse can be emotional and financially devastating to the senior. 7 Experts say that this kind behavior, will likely increase due to the stalled economy and the large number of aging population. It is still a crime that is largely unreported, since seniors may not recognize what is happening to them, or they are ashamed and embarrassed, which keeps them from speaking out. Remember that elders are far more gullible and susceptible to this type of abuse (Source.) In New York in 2011 a randomized telephone survey [<<< See PDF here] was released, in which seniors mentioned being financially exploited, more frequently than any other kind of abuse. Manhattan Assistant District Attorney Elizabeth Loewy, who was the lead prosecutor on the Marshall/ Astor case says, that almost every time she lectures on financial abuse, she will have people approach her with their own personal story. (Read more.) Elder financial exploitation in California, is defined below.
Classic Elder Abuse Scenarios
Classically in elder abuse cases, the predator will isolate the older adult, to create an environment, where they are in fear of the abuser, or in love with the abuse. Unlicensed home contractors, kids selling candy to keep kids off or drugs and gangs, internet prizes, bank scams, are occurring more than ever. Crimes involving people like lawyers, nurses, and even doctors, who are in close contact with the seniors, are also on the rise. Many cases we have dealt with involve a friend, or family member ripping off the relative!
Prevention and Protection
Consult with an Elder Abuse Attorney: Make sure and get legal advice from a lawyer, when an elder or dependant adult under your care exhibits signs of dementia, or abuse. An attorney can direct you as to the steps you may need to take in order to protect vulnerable seniors, or children.
Hire Licensed Professionals: Hiring a probate lawyer, setting up a court ordered conservatorship, is a wise choice. Hiring an estate planning attorney can help with writing your will, plus be able to write power of attorney documents, which have trusts limiting the amount of access to your money that relatives have. And of course, having it signed off on by a judge, if the elder is already under a conservatorship. The main thing, is to set these up before you start to lose control of your mental faculties.
Documents: Before giving anyone power of attorney, it should be carefully thought out. This person is legally your fiduciary, who is responsible for acting in your best interests, though they could do anything with your money, without you knowing about it. It is not always the wisest choice to permit someone closest to you to have this power. In some cases, you could be safer having someone that is more disconnected and who is financially secure. Power of attorney documents, which have limits, can be done without extra cost, experts say, which assigns a relative or friend to monitor the person who is named with the power of attorney. Joint power of attorneys, requiring two signatures on every check can be drawn up, and when assigning a relative or friend to monitor the person who has power of attorney, it can mandate that periodic reports be written of financial transactions. Another way this can be done is to split the authority, giving one person power to handle financial matters, with the other person in control of health decisions. It is important for your lawyer to physically hold the papers, which can prevent anyone from prematurely presenting them to your bank or investment company to acquire access to your funds.
Daily Account Arrangements: Daily accounts, which are where pension benefits, Social Security checks and other payments like tax refunds are deposited, should be set up with direct deposit. This is also going to be a Social Security mandate, as of March 1, 2013 requiring checks either be direct deposit paid electronically or on a debit card. Details about this can be found on their website, under ssa.gov/deposit. Automated bill pay is also wise to set up, with your bank for mortgage payments, utility bills and other regular reoccurring expenses. Another thing that can be done is to have your financial institution send statements and alerts to someone you trust, but has no access to any of your accounts, to check for fraud or other unexplained issues.
Actor Mickey Rooney made news in July of 2012, in a battle against his stepson Christopher Aber age 52 and his wife Christina Aber age 42 for emotional, verbal and financial abuse of Rooney. Rooney alleged his stepson and wife deprived him of his medication, isolated him, by stopping him from leaving the house. This occurred over an alleged 10 year period.
Court documents filed by attorney Bruce S. Ross and attorney Vivian L. Thoreen on behalf of Rooney alleged the Abers were liable for leaving the 90 year old actor powerless over his assets and personal life. At one point Aber got ATM debit/credit cards in the name of Densmore, Rooney’s company and then used them regularly for his own personal benefit. The petition that was filed said Rooney had no knowledge about the credit/debit cards.
Earlier in March of 2011 Rooney testified in front of Congress, saying he had felt trapped, frightened and helpless and that was a terrible feeling for a man. Rooney’s current wife is the mother of Aber and is denying the actors claims of elder abuse by her son.
A year prior Rooney had attorney Michael Augustine appointed to be a permanent conservator of his estate and also placed a restraining order against both Christopher and Christina Aber.
Aber was ordered in February 2012 to turn over the actor’s identification cards, passport, insurance cards, Screen Actors Guild membership and Identification cards.
Security: Security is essential and you should ensure that any caregiver you or the family of a senior considering hiring, must undergo a background check. Never assume that a placement agency will conduct a thorough background check. In doing this you need to make certain that it is a national check, rather than a state or local one. States where the law allows, consider installing a security camera monitoring system.
It is estimated that approximately 6 million elderly citizens are face with abuse. According to the National Center for Elder Abuse (NCEA) figures in 2005 there were between one and two million senior citizens (over the age of 65), which were mistreated, injured or exploited by caregivers they depended on. The organization estimates that for every one case of elder abuse reported, there are five cases that go unreported.
Mail: Mail should never be left in unsecured mail boxes, and any documents with identifying information should be shredded. Valuables and jewelry should be photographed and the photographs, along with any small valuables should be locked up, but in separate places. This is important for insurance policies and in case the need arises to check pawn shops, if necessary.
Protecting Older Relatives
It is important to protect older relatives, ensure they are able to go out, when necessary. Physical and social isolation is often associated with elder abuse. You should make unplanned visits regularly, and arrangements should be made for the senior to have outings to visit with friends, clergy, neighbors and volunteers.
February 12, 2013 in Florida began the South Shore Coalition for Mental Health and Aging annual seminar. The 12th will begin the first of the series in the seminar to discuss the important issues about elder abuse to family members, caregivers and other professionals. The coalition and the NCEA hope to bring public awareness to the growing problem of elder abuse that they say is often overlooked. The Bureau of Justice Statistics backs up their concern, showing that the number of elder abuse, neglect and financial exploitation as of 2010 showed at least 10 percent of senior citizens has suffered some form of abuse. Their statistics also shows that the majority of the elderly abuse victims are female senior citizens.
Setting Rules: The family with an older adult, should have a meeting and determine who will be looking after the physical and financial interests of the senior. In the event that one relative or sibling will be handling the largest part of the care, then an attorney should be retained to draft a “personal care agreement.” This will detail the amount the care giver will receive for services. According to Starnes a CFP, it is reasonable that a family member providing care should be paid. This can keep a lot of caregivers out of trouble, because they know the limitations.
Limited Accounts: if the relatives financial abilities are in question, then an account can be set up at a local bank, with a small amount of money being deposited, it can include a debit card and checks. This account can have a spending limit put on it, of a few hundred dollars, and an arrangement with the bank to investigate any checks that are written for a higher amount. The NCEA estimate for elder financial exploitation is approximately five million, since all of these types of cases are not reported. Many go unreported out of shame or because it is a family member the senior citizen does not want to get in trouble.
Availability: Make yourself available to accompany the senior to meetings with doctors, and financial advisors, who can help in putting in place plans for the relative’s protection. Starnes said that people are often concerned about this conversation, but he said it does not have to be approached in an adversarial manner. The conversation can be one in which the senior is praised for the job that they have done and you just want to be helpful.
Observation and Warning Signs
Be alert to the elderly person who has a new “best friend,” if they do not seem to ever be available or able to come to the telephone. Be suspicious if the senior does not seem to want to have contact with others, unless their caregiver is present or becomes socially isolated.
Lincoln County Maine, the home of Gwendolyn Swank, who worked all her life and after being manipulated by a longtime neighbor for six years, her nest egg of over $300,000 in assets and her monthly security checks were gone. Swank was left with $.37 cents in her bank account.
In 2004 Swanks neighbor Rodney Chapman became the elderly woman’s best friend, the now 85 year old said she worked hard to put away what she says was a “good portfolio” to depend on in her old age. She said she never believed Chapman would take her for a “ride.”
Swank was the manager of a mobile home park, where Chapman and his family were her neighbors, when he fell behind in his payments. This was in 2004, when she let him work off some of the debt mowing lawns and doing repairs.
The state that Chapman left his longtime neighbor in after spending most of her life working as a financial bookkeeper is behind on payments to credit card companies, her landlord, Central Maine Power Company, and the IRS for the money withdrawn from stocks and IRA accounts.
Swank at 85 went back to work at a local business, the first part of this year to help pay off the debt she is in, including the $60,000 for taxes from the withdrawal of money from stocks and IRAs.
Lincoln County District Attorney Geoffrey Rushlau, said Swanks’ case differs from many other cases, where a family member is normally the abuser. This is the family member that borrows money and never has any intention of paying it back to the elderly person. Rushlau said in this case Swank was told a concocted story of lies to keep her in her home, terrified and isolated from dangers Chapman told her were outside.
Swank was worried about illegal drug activity, which is believed to from a drug bust that occurred in 1999 in her area. Chapman told her lies that went on for years, including that he had Texas Rangers law enforcement connections and connections with a judge. He said that they could help to rid the area of the drug activity, but he would require money for transportation, lodgings for these people and to dispose of drug dealer’s bodies. Swank said she believed the stories; even know knowing how they sound. Chapman staged fights outside, pounded on her trailer, and would not let her use her telephone. He took her phone with him, restricted Swanks use of her car and restricted her visitors, telling her it was for her own safety.
In another instance Chapman talked Swank into a business venture, where she would be the bookkeeper. He convinced her to purchase an auto repair and recovery business. Swank paid for the tools, a welder, and expensive trailer to haul cars. She never saw any return from the business and now is not sure it ever existed.
Lincoln County elder abuse case specialist Detective Robert McFetridge, said Swanks case became known to him, when he received phone calls from people concerned about her situation. The detective said one of the calls was from a business where Swank’s checks were bouncing. Detective McFetridge said that Swank was not ready to talk about the situation and credits Lincoln County Deputy Brian Collamore for keeping a relationship going with Swank, until she was ready to talk.
The end came when Swank gave Chapman a deadline to return some of the money and the deadline passed. She then made a statement for the deputy.When arrested Chapman he admitted to his crimes, and Detective McFetridge believes there were others involved in the financial exploitation of Swank.
Swank was represented by Maine Legal Services for the Elderly attorney Dennis Culley, and won a civil judgment of $1.3 million on June 12th. Chapman was sentenced to five years for his crimes against Swank, who has little or no ability to pay the judgment, Swank was awarded.
Other issues that should be watched for:
- If another individual is designated to make payments, watch for unpaid bills.
- Newly authorized signers on the senior’s bank account.
- Signatures that is unfamiliar on checks and other documents.
- Canceled checks and bank statements that are no longer sent to the seniors home.
- Changes in banks or lawyers.
- Large gifts or reimbursements to caregivers or friends.
- Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts, transfers between accounts, or missing property.
- Changes in spending patterns or purchases of items that are not for the senior or ones they do not need.
- Changes in any of the seniors documents, such as a power of attorney or will, and changes in beneficiaries the senior cannot comprehend or explain.
- Extreme interest in the seniors finances by a relative, caregiver or friend.
- Lack of personal care, like having clean clothing and grooming items.
Scenario: You hire a lawyer to help you with your abuse case, and when the case settles, the attorney attempts to recover their hotel bills from their vacation. You feel too indebted to the lawyer and intimidated that you won’t get your settlement check, unless you agree. Solution: Demand the disputed amounts are set aside in trust, that you be paid immediately, and a full accounting. You can also contact the California State Bar and lodge a complaint for cases that are especially egregious.
Scenario: You ask a friend, or roommate to deposit some money into the bank for you. You trusted this person, when you were not feeling well, but it was necessary so you could pay your rent, and gave him or her your cash to deposit. You discover later that only half of the money was deposited. So when you ask for the deposit slip, the roommate says they needed the money for gas, etc, and she ignores your demand(s) or changes the subject.Courts in Washington D.C. are reportedly seeing more elderly abuse cases. Studies say elder abuse cases are of different types from neglect, financial abuse and violent beating, with only one in every 14 cases being reported.
According to Washington D.C. Superior Court’s Probate Division Judge John Campbell, who oversees cases for incapacitated adults or adults in need of guardianship, said he is seeing more elder abuse cases than ever before. Judge Campbell said he believes this is because people are living longer and due to being frail, having disease and dementia they are targets. He said these are people that raised us and took care of us, who are not being mistreated and it is upsetting.
Solution: The first thing you should do is contact the bank or financial institution and close the account. The next this you need to do, is contact the police, and/or the city, or county attorney, and even the State Attorney General, as well as an elderly abuse lawyer.
Finding More Information and Help
Adult Protective Services County APS agencies investigate reports of abuse of elders and dependent adults who live in private homes and hotels or hospitals and health clinics when the abuser is not at staff member. (The Licensing & Certification program of the California Department of Health Services handles cases of abuse by a member of a hospital or health clinic.)
http://www.ehlinelaw.com/financial-elderly-abuse.htm National Center on Elder Abuse links to state directories of help lines, elder abuse prevention resources and hotlines in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
AARP’s Scams and Fraud the latest information on fraud and scams against older adults.
AARP Money Management Program this is a service that assists seniors and individuals with disabilities with limited resources by pairing them up with trained money management volunteers. The service assists seniors who are in control of their finances to pay bills, balance checkbooks and also focuses on individuals deemed incapable of dealing with their own funds. This program is offered in 21 states and the District of Columbia, but varies in availability.
National Adult Protective Services Association this provides a national map, which has links to abuse reporting hotlines listed in each state.
Better Business Bureau Scam Stopper information found here on common scams and the instructions on how to report scams. It is also possible to sign up for scam alerts on the website.
National Association of Professional Geriatric Care Managers geriatric care managers and professionals can assist in all areas of the senior citizens lives, including managing medical appointments, monitoring in home care workers, identifying potential exploitation risks, in some cases they can pay bills and handle paperwork, along with other services.
American Association of Daily Money Managers is able to help seniors with bill paying, insurance paperwork, banking, and organizing records in order to file income tax returns and other tasks, with members nationwide to assist the elderly.
Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Office of Financial Protection for Older Americans this organization receives and investigates consumer fraud complaints with credit cards, bank loans, mortgages and other financial fraud. National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys this has a search for lawyers who specialize in elder law, including durable power of attorney, estate planning, conservatorship, elder abuse and other legal services. Telephone 703-942-571.
Disclaimer: This is a non commercial publication intended to educate the community at large as to the dangers of various types of elderly abuse. Any similarity to this article with others, and any sources linked to, or cited to as authority, provide full credit to the original author(s), and assist consumers in researching PUBLIC ISSUES of importance, and are protected under the doctrine(s) of fair use, among other things.