Abuse of the elderly is a growing problem. In 2017, the Massachusetts Executive Office of Elder Affairs logged 30,000 reports of suspected elder abuse, an increase of 68% over the number in 2011. Although final figures for 2021 are not available, it’s quite possible that the number of these incidents increased In the turmoil and isolation of the past two years.
Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical and emotional abuse. One form of abuse which commonly targets older Americans is financial exploitation. Advocates for the elderly have seen many cases in which someone defrauds an elderly person into giving them significant amounts of money, to their own detriment.
When is it exploitation, and when is it something else?
The abuser in such cases is sometimes a stranger or a so-called new friend who bilks the older person out of money through any number of fraudulent schemes. In other cases, the abuser is a known person, such as a friend, caregiver, family member or other person in a position of trust who exploits the older person over time.
This latter type of abuse can be harder to identify and harder to stop. Sometimes older people are overly generous with others, and this isn’t necessarily evidence of something illegal unless the elder person gave the money due to coercion, misrepresentation, undue influence or threat of force.
How lawyers can help
Unfortunately, financial exploitation often goes undiscovered until it is too late. In some cases, the elder person discovers they have been abused and must pursue legal action in order to secure justice and try to get some of their money back. In other cases, a family member discovers their elder loved one is being exploited, and they may have to set up a guardianship or conservatorship to protect them. In some particularly difficult cases, the issue isn’t discovered until after the person’s death, when their family members find that their loved one’s estate has been depleted, or that their will gives large amounts of their estate to an abuser.
Those who suspect elder abuse and financial exploitation can speak to an experienced elder law attorney about their options.