Financial exploitation of older Americans is a tremendous national problem. It is unclear how much elderly Americans have lost, as much of it goes unreported, but various studies estimate between $3 billion to $37 billion per year. According to the National Council on Aging, 1 in 10 Americans ages 60+ have experienced elder or financial abuse by a trusted person that is relied on for assistance. Seniors scammed by strangers lost an average of $17,000, which is just as terrible. Even more tragic is that those who were taken advantage of by someone they know and trust lost an average of $50,200.
Arizona has laws to protect vulnerable adults but it doesn’t just protect elderly adults. Many younger adults are considered vulnerable due to disability. Who is a vulnerable adult? A vulnerable adult is a person who cannot protect his or herself from financial exploitation because of physical or mental impairment. The person does not have to be incapacitated. Rather, vulnerability is a set of circumstances both physical and environmental that leaves the person dependent on another with no option to change that dependence. For example, a father with advanced Parkinson’s disease who is being cared for by his son. The father may have all of his faculties but is unable to pay his own bills, care for himself, call for help, etc. He is totally dependent on his son making him vulnerable to exploitation.
If you are concerned about a family member here are some things to look for:
A person who is in-charge of a vulnerable adult’s money, either because they are the power of attorney agent or they are on the bank account, and that person is being given gifts, homes, and cash that are uncharacteristic of the vulnerable adult. Often, we hear, “Mom wanted to me to have that.” The red flag is a change in the person’s traditional behavior regarding money such as someone who historically did not give large gifts and is now giving away large sums of money.
There are three elements of financial exploitation:
1. The threshold question is whether or not the person is a vulnerable adult.
2. Is the potential exploiter in a position of trust and confidence to a vulnerable adult? They do not need to be the power of attorney agent, conservator or trustee. Warning: a person on a bank account is likely in a position of trust and confidence or a person who writes the checks for the vulnerable adult to sign.
3. Did the potential exploiter use the vulnerable adult’s funds for something other than they vulnerable adult’s benefit? Any person, including a spouse or adult child, must be careful to use a vulnerable adult’s assets only for their benefit. For example, if an adult child is in a position of assisting an aging parent with their finances and that parent has dementia, the adult child should not buy their child a car with their parent’s money or have the parent transfer their home or bank accounts into the adult child’s name.
What are the penalties for financially exploiting a vulnerable adult?
There is a potential for criminal prosecution which we don’t see happen often enough. A suit pursuant to A.R.S. §46-456 is a civil suit to recover the vulnerable adult’s money or property and may result in the exploiter being disinherited.
Financial exploitation is an issue that causes fear and anger for everyone. It is a complex issue that involves determining the financial transactions, where the money went, how it was used and determining if the victim is a vulnerable adult. Sadly, it is a significant part of our litigation practice. We can help. Give us call or book an appointment online now.
Written by: Jennifer Kupiszewski, Esq.
The lawyer disclaimer: We hope you find this informative, but it is not legal advice. You should consult your own attorney, who can review your specific situation and account for variations in state law and local practices. Laws and regulations are constantly changing, so the longer it has been since this was written, the greater the likelihood that the information might be out of date.
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