INTRO: Working with many elderly clients and hearing about the parents of “baby boomer” clients, I see and hear signs of elder financial abuse way too often. Some of the stories are really heartbreaking.
It’s not a stretch to characterize elder financial abuse as an epidemic. The confluence of an aging population, longer life expectancies, and a plethora of con-artists has resulted in an explosion of such instances in the last few decades. The perpetrators may be caregivers, financial service providers, neighbors or “friends”.
Fortunately, California has responded by enacting more aggressive civil legislation in the last decade or so. Relevant statutes have, among other things: loosened plaintiff “standing” requirements, giving the ability to more third parties to bring a case; expanded damages that can be ordered; and, in some instances, allowed attorneys’ fees to be recovered.
Unfortunately, however, it is still difficult to combat elder financial abuse. Sometimes it isn’t recognized or at least not until it’s too late – the abuser and/or the money disappears. Tragically, such cases are hugely under-reported because the elder victim and/or family is embarrassed or just wants to move on. Even when a civil complaint (lawsuit) is filed, the accused perpetrator often argues that the elderly victim voluntarily gifted him the absconded funds. Evidence to the contrary may not be sufficient to satisfy the required standard of proof to hold the perpetrator liable.
Sadly, “secret marriage” (a version of which is called “deathbed marriage”) is an ugly twist on elder financial abuse that’s extraordinarily difficult to defend against, particularly after the elder victim dies. This is when a financial abuser secretly marries an elderly person. Frequently, the marriage stays secret because the elder victim is incapacitated or has significant enough mental deficits that he or she doesn’t recall that the marriage ever took place. More problematic yet is that a wise abuser can arrange to enter into a “confidential marriage” with the victim. This process – perfectly legal when the easy requirements are met – blocks the marriage certificate from being accessible via public records, as it otherwise would be. Absent a court order, the only people who can access the record are the parties to the marriage themselves.
PART TWO: More Advice from Rob in Be On High Alert For Elder Financial Abuse! – Part Two
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