With the aging of our population, elder exploitation is a growing problem in the U.S. In Florida, we have a large older population, and so this issue is even more prevalent. Many times, the exploitation occurs at the hands of a caregiver or some unrelated person, but very often, the exploitation is done at the hands of a family member. When this happens, it can be devastating to the senior and other family members.
There are different types of elder abuse and exploitation. These include physical or psychological abuse - anything that can result in bodily injury, pain, impairment, emotional or mental anguish. This also includes financial exploitation (illegally or improperly using an older person's funds or resources) and neglect where the caregiver fails to take care of the older person properly.
What are the signs that someone is being exploited? In some cases, the person doing the exploiting isolates the senior or will not allow them to communicate with other family members. There may be large withdrawals from the senior's bank account (or many smaller withdrawals on a more frequent basis or Payments to the family member to help take care of the senior of larger sums (like $500 or $1,000 per month).
Other signs of exploitation include large withdrawals of funds that can cause tax consequences, or large withdrawals that are not normal for the senior to do and transferring that money to the family member, changing beneficiaries on accounts such as life insurance policies or retirement accounts, and having the senior change their estate planning documents to leave everything to just one child where, before, everything was equal to all children. Additionally, the failure to attend to the senior's personal hygiene, making sure they have appropriate care and failing to use their money to take care of them (like paying for their care in assisted living, making sure they have their prescription medications, not taking them to the doctor when they clearly are in distress) are signs of neglect.
Did you know that someone who is an agent under a power of attorney, a trustee or guardian, or a joint account holder can be liable for criminal and civil penalties? Florida's Exploitation statute subjects trustees, guardian's or agents who breach their fiduciary duties by the unauthorized transfer of assets to liability for criminal and civil penalties. Those who are agents under a power of attorney and abuse their powers are also subject to these penalties. Additionally, joint account holders who take money from a senior where the senior was the sole contributor of the funds can be held liable.
In Florida, the failure to report elder abuse in Florida is a second degree misdemeanor. Making a false report can cause someone to be guilty of a 3rd degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine not to exceed $10,000 for each violation.
If you feel that a loved one is being exploited, you can call the police and report the issues. In Florida you can call the Florida Abuse Hotline at 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873) or go to the Department of Elder Affairs website and download their form to fax in a report of abuse - http://elderaffairs.state.fl.us/doea/report_abuse.php.
Finally, you can contact an elder law attorney who specializes in elder exploitation issues. Many times, attorneys can move to freeze assets, and even proceed under the civil theft statute in order to get the senior's money returned or get treble damages (triple your money). The senior's can even have their attorney's fees paid by the exploiter under the civil statute.
Would you like additional guidance from a knowledgable attorney? Schedule a complimentary phone consultation with Attorney Laurie Ohall by calling 813.438.8503 or online.