The Prevalence of Financial Exploitation
Ms. Benita is retired and currently lives alone in a home she owns jointly with her spouse, now deceased. She has no children, and her closest relatives are cousins who live in another state.
Ms. Benita attends Bedside Pentecostal Church and has several friends there. She is on a fixed income, but thankfully, her mortgage has been paid off.
About six years ago, Ms. Benita hired Enrique to assist her with taking out the garbage and other small tasks. Enrique then started to do repair work inside the home which allowed for more frequent communications with Ms. Benita. They became fast friends, and Ms. Benita began to rely on him more and more when she started to lose her memory.
As Ms. Benita’s memory faded, Enrique began to take a more active role in the management of Ms. Benita’s affairs. Ms. Benita no longer attends church, and she has not seen her doctor in over two years.
Enrique is having financial problems and has resorted to Ms. Benita’s assets to meet his personal financial obligations. One of Ms. Benita’s cousins visited her recently and discovered that Ms. Benita’s once $500,000 estate has dwindled down to a few hundred dollars. To make matters worse, Ms. Benita’s home is now owned by a limited liability company who has commenced an eviction case again Ms. Benita.
Sadly, this is not a unique scenario.
It has been demonstrated time and again that elders are vulnerable targets for the unscrupulous, particularly in real estate transactions. Social Services Law, Section 473 (6)(g), defines financial exploitation as the improper use of an adult’s funds, property or resources by another individual, including but not limited to, fraud, false pretenses, embezzlement, conspiracy, forgery, falsifying records, coerced property transfers or denial of access to assets.
And although financial abuse by strangers is on the rise, a 2016 study conducted by the New York State Office for Children and Family Services found that 67% of verified cases involved ones where family members were the perpetrators.
Oftentimes, there are signs of financial exploitation, which may include the isolation of the elder; changes in the older person’s demeanor or condition; increased or bizarre spending patterns; unpaid bills where funds are available; new “friends” who may not have the elder’s best interest; sudden changes in estate planning documents; misuse of a power of attorney or other advance directives, or the transfer of assets as in Ms. Benita’s case.
If you are a victim of financial exploitation, or suspect that an elderly person is being exploited, you may make a referral to Adult Protective Services, or to your local District Attorney’s Office. In Brooklyn, the telephone number to the DA’s Elder Abuse Unit is (718) 250-5299. Victims may also pursue legal recourse in the civil justice system, via a guardianship, an order of protection, or a turnover proceeding, among others.
The information provided in this article does not, and is not intended to, constitute legal advice and is for general informational purposes only. Readers of this article should contact their attorney to obtain advice with respect to any particular legal matter. The views expressed in this article are those of the individual author writing in her individual capacity only. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.