Thursday, June 10, 2010

California’s Expanding Financial Elder Abuse Laws

Over the past five years, California’s lawmakers have been increasing protections for elders, defined as California residents age 65 or over, including protections to address the growing problem of financial institution involvement in financial elder abuse.

Lawmakers enacted amendments to California’s elder abuse laws in the Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act of 2005, which went into effect nearly three years ago. As of January 1, 2007, financial institutions, including banks and credit unions, as well as their employees, are required to report suspected incidents of financial elder abuse. The amendments also added civil fines ranging from $1,000 to $5,000 which may be levied against financial institutions if their employees fail to report abuse as required under the Act.

In 2008, lawmakers expanded elders’ rights again with the enactment of a California Senate Bill that expanded the definition of financial elder abuse to include situations where “undue influence” is used to misappropriate an elder’s property. The bill also expanded elders’ rights by making it easier for elders to prove that the misconduct meets the law's requirements that the taking be for a “wrongful use.”

California’s Current Definition of “Financial Elder Abuse”

As it is now defined, financial elder abuse in California occurs when: “a person takes, secretes, appropriates or retains real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult to a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both” or does so by the use of “undue influence,” including through the use of “an agreement, donative transfer, or testamentary bequest.” Assisting a person in committing prohibited conduct is also a violation of the law. (California Welfare & Institutions Code § 15610.30(a)-(c).)

If You Suspect Financial Abuse, We Can Help You

Financial elder abuse can take many forms, including overpaying for services such as home repairs, outright gifts of cash, telemarketing scams, or convincing an elder to invest in inappropriate or highly risky investments, such as annuities which yield little return to the elder, but pay high commission to the sales agent. If you suspect that you or a loved one has been a victim of financial elder abuse, contact The Casiano Law Firm for a confidential consultation.