It’s unfortunate to learn that up to five million older Americans become victims of financial abuse and exploitation each year. These vulnerable adults become subjected to neglect due to financial exploitation.
Older Americans lose their health and medical care because of misused funds, which could cost their lives.
This article brings to attention the silent problem affecting the senior population of this country, which is a vulnerable section of society.
People must become aware of elder abuse cases and how they can affect the primary healthcare needs of individuals not only advanced in years but burdened by conditions associated with old age.
It’s best to do background checks when you hire the services of caretakers for a senior adult you care about.
If you need an inmate locator to check if the person you want to hire as a caregiver has a criminal record, visit LookUpInmate.org. You’ll have access to an extensive database of more than 7,000 correctional facilities in the United States and their records.
Jail Time for Financial Exploitation: How Common Is It?
The financial exploitation of an elderly person is the improper use of adult funds for one’s gain. However, jail time for financial exploitation is not common because the culprits of these kinds of abuses are family or close relatives.
Most of the time, senior adults who are victims of financial exploitation don’t want to send their loved ones to prison. As a result, many cases of this type of abuse might go unreported.
What Is the Penalty for Elder Financial Abuse?
Unlike physical and sexual abuse cases, financial abuse is often treated as a civil case, and the penalty for misappropriating funds is to return the misused money. However, this doesn’t mean that penalty for abusing the finances of a senior citizen has no severe punishment.
The following are some punishments and penalties for financial abuse of elderly persons in the United States.
Punishment for Financial Elder Abuse in the U.S.
Enumerating the punishment for financial elder abuse in the United States is difficult because the judge decides on a case-by-case basis.
Each case is unique, especially since most involved are family members the elderly have trusted. However, financial abuse can result in fines and even jail time, depending on the judge’s decision.
Elder Financial Abuse Penalties in the U.S.
States have various penalties for financial abuse, which may have subtle variations depending on the judge’s decision. For example, California law lists penalties for elder financial abuse.
- For elder financial abuse that amounts to $950 of losses, the penalty is a fine that can go up to $1,000. The abuser can also face jail time of up to one year.
- For elder financial abuse that amounts to more than $950 of losses, the penalty is a misdemeanor charge, with fines up to $2,500 and a maximum of one-year jail time.
How Serious Are the Criminal Charges for Financial Elder Abuse, and Who Can Be Charged?
The severity of a financial elder abuse charge depends on the circumstances and the person who has done the abuse. People in positions of trust, like financial advisors or caretakers, can receive more serious charges than those with no criminal history.
In some cases, there are instances where financial abuse can result in felony charges. Getting charged with a serious crime depends on the gravity of the theft and the judge’s decision.
Can a Financial Elder Abuser Be Disinherited?
An inheritance is a personal property of a deceased loved one that is “bequeathed” or passed on to their living beneficiaries.
It’s hard to invalidate a trust or will. However, some states have passed laws that provide a method to disinherit people who have committed financial elder abuse.
In California, Probate Code Section 259 provides a way to drop a person who’s a proven abuser from the inheritance list. However, there should be “clear and convincing” evidence that the accused committed the act of abusing the financial assets of an elderly individual.
Once found guilty, the elder abuser will be deemed to have “pre-deceased” the victim, which results in disinheritance.
What Is Exploitation Financial Abuse?
The law states that financial abuse is the illegal, fraudulent, and unauthorized use of the property of a “vulnerable adult” to benefit an individual other than the owner.
In this context, a “vulnerable adult” is an older or senior adult.
Are Financial Abuse and Exploitation the Same Thing?
Financial abuse and exploitation are considered the same thing. They refer to the unauthorized use of the property of a vulnerable adult for the personal benefit of the abuser.
Financial abuse or exploitation is considered abuse because other acts, like neglect and psychological and physical abuse, may occur during exploitation.
Crimes Related to Elder Financial Abuse
Any financial abuse done to someone 65 years old and above can be classified as elder financial abuse. However, financial abuse can also happen to individuals between 18 to 65 years of age, as long as they are dependent adults.
Crimes related to elder financial abuse include embezzlement, fraud, and stealing or theft. In California, elder financial abuse is a crime that can be categorized under the state’s “three-strike rule.”
The three-strike rule says that the third time one is convicted of the same felony, they will automatically get a 25 to life sentence.
Is Stealing From the Elderly a Felony?
A felony is a serious crime that comes with hefty fines and corresponding prison time. Stealing from the elderly can be a felony, depending on the crime committed.
In California, for example, stealing assets amounting to $950 from older adults can be classified as a misdemeanor. Punishment for misdemeanors usually ranges from fines to jail time of not more than one year.
However, if the value stolen is above $950, the crime becomes severe. Once the money stolen ranges up to thousands of dollars, the likelihood of getting charged with a felony is high.
What Is It Called When You Steal From the Elderly?
Any intentional theft or stealing from an older adult is called elder financial exploitation. This definition is accepted in states like New York, which further specifies that financial exploitation involves a systemic and ongoing act to defraud a vulnerable elderly person.
What Are Red Flags of Financial Exploitation?
An elderly individual might be unable to care for themselves. They may have difficulty managing their finances, leading them to delegate this essential task to someone they trust, like a caregiver or a relative.
However, there are cases where people take advantage of the weaknesses of senior adults. Here are some red flags signifying that you should take a second look at an elderly loved one’s financial management:
- An elderly individual suddenly has a new “friend”
- There is a surprising lack of basic needs like food and essential services that the senior adult could typically afford
- The elderly person exhibits fear toward the new care provider
- The older adult shows signs of neglect or being isolated
- The elderly or the caretaker suddenly complains about lost or stolen cashbooks, checks, or credit cards
- Sudden changes in transaction practices and cases of suspicious financial activity and withdrawals arise
- There is an unusual or sudden increase in credit card debt
- The caregiver or relative in charge of the care of the elderly person seems to be “living off” the senior adult’s money
- There are sudden changes in an older person’s will or other financial documents
Common Perpetrators Who Commit Elder Financial Abuse
Perpetrators who commit elder financial abuse can be categorized into caretakers or caregivers and non-caregivers. California and some states have adopted this categorization.
Caregivers are people who are in charge of taking care of the older person’s daily life. In California, caretakers who commit financial abuse face harsher penalties. Non-caretakers are those who are not involved in the primary care of a senior adult.
Other examples of people who may be perpetrators of elder financial abuse are the following:
- Financial advisors and managers
- Individuals who take advantage of senior adults to purchase unnecessary services or products and often demand upfront payments
- Nursing home employees and assisted living facility staff
- Online scam and phishing perpetrators
Can Financial Elder Abuse Lead to Criminal Charges?
It’s rare for elderly individuals to press criminal charges against financial abusers that are close to them. In some cases, the abused desires only to recover the stolen asset and see the abusive relative change their ways.
However, this doesn’t mean that financial abuse doesn’t lead to criminal charges.
California is one state that provides strict policies against financial abuse and treats it as a criminal offense. If the abused does press charges, the defendant may face a misdemeanor or felony charge. Both charges can lead to incarceration.
Moreover, a criminal charge may include fines like giving back the stolen asset or paying the amount stolen plus penalties.
New Laws Add Stiffer Penalties to Those Charged With Elderly Abuse
State authorities are tightening the penalties against financial elderly abuse. Here are some examples of stiffer laws against this kind of exploitation.
- Tennessee passed the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act on January 1, 2020. The new law bumps up the penalties for elder financial abuse from a class C felony, which has 15 years of prison time, to a class B felony, with possible sentences of up to a maximum of 30 years in prison.
- In Florida, it’s now a felony when a nursing caregiver financially abuses an elderly individual in a nursing home.
Elder Abuse Is Underreported
The lack of reports of elderly abuse is a cause for concern. The National Elder Abuse Incidence Study revealed that only 1 in 14 incidents of elder abuse are reported to law enforcement agencies.
The World Health Organization reports worse figures. The agency said that 1 in 24 cases of elder abuse is reported, and almost three-fourths don’t report any abuse happening to themselves or someone they care about.
States have submitted laws that will prompt law enforcement to start an investigation. The law aims to help senior adults who are unable to or are afraid to report the abuser.
Abuse Cases Prompt New Legislation
All states have laws that protect individuals, including older adults, from being abused financially. The state’s legislation on elder abuse treatment guides various law enforcement agencies and adult protective services in handling these kinds of exploitation.
Here are some new legislation prompted by the growing cases of elder financial abuse.
- In Ohio, the fines placed on people convicted of elder abuse may go up to a maximum of $50,000 on top of paying for the amount stolen or lost by the perpetrators.
- In Illinois, a law passed on January 1, 2020, states that anyone who commits an assault, aggravated assault, aggravated battery, and battery on an older adult can result in disinheritance.
Abuse at the Hands of Caregivers
You should do background checks before hiring or acquiring a caregiver’s services. There are many ways to do this check. Good thing these records are public information because you need to see if the person you’re hiring has an existing criminal record related to elder abuse.
However, law enforcement becomes frustrated when cases involve an elder person hiring a relative they thought was trustworthy. For this reason, many cases of elder abuse remain inconclusive as they don’t want to see their loved ones go to jail.
Everyone Required to Report Elder Abuse
Remember that elder abuse can happen anywhere. It’s crucial that once you know someone is being taken advantage of, you’d know how to act.
Once you see the red flags pointing to the possibility of someone being abused, it’s always better to report any incidents because they can worsen and sometimes be life-threatening for older adults.
Pursuing Financial Elder Abuse Claims in Court
Sometimes the best way to force someone to give up the things they’ve stolen is to threaten them with a severe lawsuit. In this case, it’s pursuing a financial elder abuse claim in court. Various states have laws about this issue, but all share that elder abuse is reprehensive.
When you want to pursue this kind of case, you can file it at a civil court or press criminal charges and file it at a criminal court. Here are some tips on determining whether a case is a civil issue or a criminal charge.
When Does Financial Elder Abuse Go to Civil Court?
You usually go to court once the abuser doesn’t want to return the property or asset illegally taken. You also go to court if the accused claims they got the item legally, despite evidence proving otherwise.
A civil court handles cases that are not part of a criminal offense. These incidents are between private citizens and companies. Cases involving breaking criminal law are usually tried in a criminal court.
When Does Financial Elder Abuse Go to Criminal Court?
You’ll need to file a criminal charge to go to criminal court. There are instances where financial elder abuse can be tried as a criminal case if it involves acts like theft, embezzlement, forgery, and bribery.
Why Don’t Victims File Criminal Charges?
Most financial elder abuse cases are caused by people they love or trust. However, most cases don’t even reach the stage of filing charges because if the defendant agrees to return the things stolen, the elder will often not press charges.
How Can It Be Prevented?
The only way to effectively prevent an older person from being abused by financial abusers is to be vigilant. Beware of the red flags that may warn you that an older adult is being financially exploited.
When Do I Need a Financial Elder Abuse Attorney?
You’ll need legal representation when you’re in a legal proceeding where the process might get a bit confusing.
Legal professionals will help you with concepts like power of attorney and explain policies like the California Penal Code and other legislation in your state about elder abuse and its criminal penalties.
How Much Does a Financial Elder Abuse Attorney Cost?
A criminal defense lawyer or attorney’s fee depends on the law firm you’ve contacted. These experts provide the legal representation your loved one needs. Research good attorneys in your area and use their free consultation to learn more about their services.
If you’ve got the services of a good attorney, you’ll never worry about misrepresentation as they will look out for your elder loved one’s best interests.
You should also prepare your elder loved one if the case ends up with the caregiver being sentenced to imprisonment and sent to jail or prison.
To learn more about the different prison facilities in the country, visit LookUpInmate.org. This website provides access to over 7,000 U.S. correctional facilities, including federal and state prisons, local and county jails, military prisons, and immigrant detention facilities.
1. Get the Facts on Elder Abuse
2. Probate Code
3. Criminal Financial Exploitation Va. Code Ann. § 18.2-178.2 (2023)
5. Criminal Financial Exploitation NY Penal § 190.65(1) & § 260.31(3) (2022)