The law in California defines an “elder” as anyone over the age of 64. Because elders are particularly vulnerable to financial and physical abuse, special laws were created to protect them and to punish those who physically or financially abuse an elder. Another vulnerable group are adults who are not yet over the age of 64 but who are dependent upon others to ensure that they have proper care, housing, food and clothing. These individuals are referred to as “dependent adults” and they also receive special protections under the law.
What is Elder or Dependent Adult Abuse?
There are many forms of financial abuse. Some are obvious such as outright theft of cash or property or forging the elder’s signature on checks. Others are less obvious, such as taking payment for services that are never provided, overcharging for home repairs or other services, misrepresenting an investment opportunity or other outright fraud. Obviously, it is important to discover and put a stop to any financial abuse as soon as possible. It is sometimes a challenge because the elder or dependent adult may be embarrassed to admit they have been victimized, or may wish to protect the abuser.
Physical abuse of an elder or dependent adult occurs when the abuser intentionally causes the victim to feel pain, causes injury or causes the victim to be impaired. When one thinks of physical abuse the first actions that often come to mind are pinching, slapping, hitting and shoving. However, physical abuse can also occur when the elder or dependent adult is improperly confined, physically restrained or receives inappropriate medications. Finally, physical abuse also includes sexual abuse.
Emotional and Psychological Abuse
Emotional abuse occurs when the abuser intimidates the elder or dependent adult by yelling, threatening them, or ridiculing or belittling them. This type of behavior is generally linked to the abuser’s desire to control the elder or dependent adult. Emotional abuse can also include isolating the elder or dependent adult from family and friends, which often occurs when the abuser is also engaging in financial abuse.
When someone assumes the responsibility for ensuring that an elder or dependent adult has housing, food and clothing, health care and daily assistance they may not simply abandon their obligations. Also, having personal knowledge that an elder or dependent adult needs additional care to preserve their health and well being and doing nothing, can be considered neglect in some circumstances. Elders and dependent adults can also engage in self-neglect by refusing assistance when it’s plainly needed to protect them from harm. Often this occurs because the elder or dependent adult is embarrassed about their circumstances or condition, or when they simply are in denial about the severity of their situation or are fearful of giving up control and independence.
Who commits Elder Abuse?
Anyone with trusted access to an elder or dependent adult has the opportunity to commit physical or financial abuse. This includes family members, so-called “friends”, in home care providers, door-to-door scam artists, and unethical financial advisors. Anyone who can gain the trust of the elder or dependent adult can then use that trust to take advantage of them.
Signs and Symptoms of Elder Abuse
Evidence of physical injury such as bruising, cuts, sores and scrapes are all evidence of possible physical abuse. Some behaviors that are commonly associated with decreased mental functioning (as with dementia) may actually be signs of abuse. These can include the elder or dependent adult becoming withdrawn and lethargic, exhibiting rocking and thumb sucking behaviors, becoming more agitated and angry and engaging in increased conflict with care givers for no apparent reason.
Evidence of financial abuse includes a sudden change in bank account balances, modifications to wills or trust documents leaving large bequests to care givers, transfers of assets such as bank accounts or real property to care givers or others, or the purchase of inappropriate investments.
What Can I Do?
If you suspect that an elder or dependent adult is the victim of physical abuse you should immediately contact the local police, Adult Protective Services, or the District Attorney’s office. Links to the web sites for these local agencies are included at the bottom of this page.
If you suspect that someone has or is committing financial abuse of an elder or dependent adult you can seek the advice of an attorney experienced in this area of the law. You should gather copies of bank statements, credit card receipts, home improvement invoices, deeds or any other evidence that shows questionable financial activities. There are court procedures that you can utilize to freeze financial accounts to protect them while the matter is investigated.
The laws protecting elders and dependent adults allow the court to order an individual who has been found to have committed abuse to reimburse you for the attorneys fees and costs required to bring such a case to court. As an attorneys experienced in this area of law, we can discuss the case with you, look at the evidence of abuse, and assist you with deciding whether or not you want to take the matter to court.