Berge & Berge, LLP Blog

Monday, August 8, 2016

Financial Elder Abuse Threatens Elderly Couple With Eviction

Mistreatment of the elderly takes many forms, but the most common is financial elder abuse. Fraud, misappropriation of funds, and other betrayals by people in a position of trust often cause at least as much harm as physical abuse, with far reaching consequences.

A Too-Trusting Couple Deeds Their House to Their Grandson

The recent experience of a California couple is a case in point. Both in their late 80s, the elderly couple considered borrowing against the home they had shared for half a century. Their grandson convinced them to let him mortgage the house for them. They did so, deeding to property to him without seeking professional advice or reading the paperwork carefully.

After borrowing $470,000 against the house, their grandson convinced them to let him hold the funds for them. For a short time, he gave them monthly disbursements, and then nothing.

Without Their Knowledge, Their House is Repeatedly Mortgaged and Then Sold

They began to receive notices from banks, addressed to their grandson but mailed to their address. It emerged that he had taken out not one but three loans against the house and was not making payments on them. He asked his grandparents to vacate the house briefly, claiming that it needed to be vacant for the bank to assess the house. In fact, he was showing it to potential buyers and sold the house without telling them.

A neighbor ultimately helped the couple understand what had been going on, but by then it was too late. Their house had been mortgaged and sold, and they were facing eviction. Though their grandson faces a civil suit for fraud and possible criminal charges, the couple may still have to move.

How to Protect Yourself from Financial Elder Abuse

This story offers several lessons for the elderly.

• Do not readily relinquish your home, and get expert legal advice before signing any paperwork. According to one California official, the most common form of elder abuse involves seniors "quick deeding" their homes to others.

• Be careful about trusting others with your bank accounts. Letting family members help your bills and finances can be helpful -- but it is also risky, as they can do whatever they want with your funds.

• Talk to your bank about placing limits and controls on your accounts. While getting help from others, you may still be able to require that all checks be co-signed by you, so you can see every one. You may be able to arrange for automatic payments for certain bills you know are legitimate. You can also hire an outside accountant or bookkeeper to watch for misuse of your accounts.

Sadly, the biggest lesson may be that, in the end, you cannot be too careful, even with friends and loved ones. An experienced elder law attorney can advise you on precautions to take or, if you have already been the victim of elder abuse, can help you take steps to minimize the damage.

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