Sadly, elder financial abuse is a serious issue affecting a significant number of older Americans. It involves someone, often in a position of trust, exploiting or manipulating an older person’s finances or assets for personal gain. Recovering from elder financial abuse, both financially and emotionally, can be challenging, but there are several strategies and resources available to help these victims.
Types of Elder Fraud
There are seemingly limitless financial fraud schemes that affect older Americans. Tech support scams are one of the most often reported. However, confidence, fraud, and romance scams cost elderly victims the most money. Confidence fraud is perpetrated by someone who can get close to their older victim, gain their confidence, and abuse their relationship by taking their money or assets.
Elder fraud types include:
- Confidence or romance fraud
- Business email and email account compromise
- Tech support
- Personal data breach
- Real estate or rental
- Government impersonation
- Identity theft
- Sweepstakes, lottery, and inheritance scams
- Non-payment or non-delivery
- Credit card fraud and advanced fee
If you suspect an older person is the victim of financial abuse, the first thing to do is report it immediately to the appropriate authorities. You can begin by contacting your local Adult Protective Services agency (APS) or law enforcement to file a report. The sooner you make a report, the sooner an investigation into the situation can occur, followed by actions to protect the victim and prevent further abuse. Working with APS, law enforcement, and an elder law attorney, you can assess the scope of the financial abuse, identify the affected assets, and the extent of financial losses.
Secondly, establish a support network for the victim. Surround the older individual with supportive family members, friends, and professionals who can provide the emotional support and guidance they need throughout recovery. This network of professionals may include attorneys, financial advisors, therapists, and social workers.
If the perpetrator of the abuse was considered a trusted family member or professional caretaker, have them immediately removed from contact with the victim and from any accounts or other access that would allow them to further the financial abuse. Where possible, appoint an interim individual to provide financial oversight and protections until a new formal financial appointee is named.
How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help the Recovery Process
An elder law attorney can be crucial in helping with elder financial abuse and recovery. An attorney understands the laws and regulations surrounding elder abuse and financial exploitation. They can provide personalized advice related to the specific circumstances, explaining the legal rights and options available to rectify the situation.
Documentation, Evidence, and Complaint Filing
Gathering and organizing the necessary documentation and evidence to support a case of financial abuse can be complex. Collecting bank statements, financial records, contracts, and other relevant documents will be necessary to build a strong case. A formal complaint is more in-depth than the initial reporting of elder financial abuse.
Working with APS and law enforcement, your elder law attorney can provide the necessary documents and ensure your formal complaint is filed correctly and promptly.
Continuing Contact and Asset Recovery
As an intermediary, your elder law attorney can maintain contact with you, the victim, law enforcement, or adult protective services. Communicating on the victim’s behalf with the appropriate agencies ensures the investigation moves forward and that the rights and interests of the older person are protected.
An elder law attorney can work to recover any assets that have been misappropriated or stolen. They may work with financial institutions, file lawsuits against the abuser, or explore other legal remedies to recover the stolen funds or assets.
Financial Recovery Plan and Credit Reporting Agencies
Notifying major credit reporting agencies like Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion about a case of elder financial abuse can help protect their credit and prevent further financial abuse via fraud alerts and instituting a credit freeze to prevent the abuser from opening new accounts or accessing credit in the older person’s name.
Working with an elder law attorney to develop a plan for rebuilding the victim’s finances is crucial to their recovery. A recovery plan may involve changing an existing budget, debt management, and exploring new investment strategies to recover lost assets over time. An elder law attorney can also help identify new financial persons to replace previously abusive financial advisors and create legal documents to appoint these individuals.
Protection Orders and Injunctions
In cases where the abuser continues to have access to the older individual or their assets, an elder law attorney can help obtain protection orders or injunctions to prevent further harm. These legal measures can prohibit the abuser from contacting or approaching the older person and safeguard their financial resources.
Mediation and Settlement Negotiations
In some cases, resolving financial abuse disputes through mediation or settlement negotiations may be possible. Although some perpetrators of financial abuse will remain unreachable for restitution, most financial crimes against the elderly are committed by a person well known to them. Mediation, settlements, and even civil or criminal litigation may be appropriate avenues to pursue.
Estate Planning and Asset Protection
An elder law attorney can develop comprehensive estate plans that protect the older person’s assets and provide for their future needs by establishing trusts, powers of attorney, and other legal tools to safeguard finances and ensure the older individual’s wishes are honored.
Guardianship and conservatorship may be appropriate when older adults can’t manage their financial affairs independently. An elder law attorney can help establish legal guardianship or conservatorship, which appoints a trusted individual or institution to manage the older adult’s finances and make decisions on their behalf.
Education and Prevention
Although restitution after a financial abuse scheme is desirable, it’s best to prevent elder financial abuse from ever happening through education and preventative measures. An elder law attorney can explain legal rights, common scams, and warning signs of financial exploitation. They can help older adults make informed financial decisions and provide the legal framework to achieve their goals.
Elder Law Attorneys
Retaining an elder law attorney to provide legal expertise and support when addressing elder financial abuse and the recovery process increases the chances of successful outcomes. Their knowledge and desire to protect the rights of older adults greatly increase the chances of positive resolution and restitution. If you suspect someone you love is experiencing elder financial abuse, contact an elder law attorney to help them recover emotionally and financially. For legal advice, please contact our Wichita office at 316-830-5603.