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Predators and Prey – Addressing Elder Exploitation

How is it that the very actions one associates with doing good can just as easily be flipped to do evil?

You don’t have to go far to see examples. In 2011, at age 90, Mickey Rooney testified before Congress about how he had been emotionally and financially abused by his stepchildren. He said “For years I suffered silently. I didn’t want to tell anybody. I couldn’t muster the courage and you have to have courage…. Even when I tried to speak up, I was told to shut up and be quiet.” The director of geriatrics at the New York Presbyterian Health System testified at the same hearing that “it would appear that for every elder abuse victim that makes it into an official service or reporting system, another 23 or 24 go undetected.” Annual losses from elder financial abuse are estimated to be $2.9 billion.

The methods of exploitation are simple: opportunity, isolation, suggestion. A predator will plant seeds with the elder – the need to secure bank accounts or change beneficiaries, the elder’s religion requires a certain action, the predator promises to forever take care of the elder. The predator will urge that all of their dealings remain secret because family members will otherwise be upset and put the elder in an institution. The predator will encourage the elder’s complaints about family members and attribute sinister ulterior motives to every family contact.

Just as the methods are simple, so are the signs. The elder becomes more secretive and hostile. Large sums of money go missing. A stranger moves into the house or starts attending appointments with financial advisors, CPAs, and bankers. Things from the home disappear: china, crystal, silver. New legal documents are signed that designate family members with bad character or strangers as the new agent. Business transactions that make absolutely no financial sense are finalized.

Texas has some criminal remedies. Section 22.04, the statute most often used in prosecuting physical or mental abuse of the elderly (over 65 years of age), makes it a felony for a person to intentionally, knowingly, recklessly or with criminal negligence, cause an elder bodily injury or serious injury. Section 32.53 makes it felony for a person to cause the exploitation of an elder. Section 32.47 makes it a crime for a person who destroys, removes, conceals, alters, substitutes or otherwise impairs the verity, legibility or availability of a writing, other than a governmental record. Several other crimes have increased punishment if the victim is elderly: theft, forgery, credit/debit card abuse, robbery, securing execution of document by deception, misapplication of fiduciary property of a financial institution.

There is another significant crime found in Section 48.051 of the Texas Human Resources Code: failure to report elder abuse. If you suspect abuse or exploitation, call Adult Protective Services at 1.800.252.5400. If a facility is involved, call 1.800.647.7418. You can also file an information letter with the probate court in the elder’s county; check online with that county’s clerk for the form.

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The information contained in this article is general information only and does not constitute legal advice.

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