There's a growing awareness of problems with elder abuse -- but there's also a growing problem with people being falsely accused of elder abuse when they've done nothing wrong. What happens when you've been given a financial power of attorney over the affairs of an older friend or relative, done what you were supposed to do, and find yourself accused by some other member of the family of manipulating the elder for your own financial gain?
New legal emphasis on the problem can lead to unfair legal trouble.
As of 2013, 29 states and Washington D.C. had laws on the books designed to criminalize various forms of elder abuse. In 2015, the White House Conference on Aging made "elder justice" one of its priorities.
While all the attention and laws may be necessary to protect a vulnerable part of the population, the law can also end up being used as a tool by disgruntled family members who think that someone else is getting more than their "fair share" of a parent's or grandparent's assets -- simply by virtue of being placed in charge and being the beneficiary of the elder's good intentions. The current focus on elder exploitation among lawmakers and in the political arena can end up encouraging prosecutors to jump to assumptions based on a few jealous accusations. Innocent people can end up fighting for their freedom in court.
For example, imagine that you and your father happen to enjoy a particularly close relationship. It might not surprise anyone that, as he ages, he relies on you more for assistance. He may move into your home or ask you to move into his. Eventually, he may turn his financial affairs over to you -- and even give you a large portion of his assets because he wants to give them to you while he's still living and can see you enjoy them.
Imagine now that you have a brother who doesn't get along with Dad, isn't around during his last years, but is shocked and angry after your father's death to find out that you somehow "got your hands on" Dad's money. Unwilling to believe that your father didn't split the assets evenly, he takes his suspicions to the police and you end up under investigation. It can happen that easily.
It isn't exploitation if you were freely given the money.
Is elder abuse a problem? Absolutely. It's estimated that one in five seniors over the age of 65 has been the victim of some sort of financial fraud or exploitation. However, age doesn't equal senility, nor does it negate somebody's right to give away what they own. A lot of elders decide to get rid of assets before they die -- that way they know that the money goes where they want it to and can reward a relative or friend who has devoted extra time and effort toward their well-being.
If an elder friend or relative gave you a sizable gift of property or money and/or gave you financial control over his or her affairs, it isn't a crime. However, that might not stop you from ending up in court.
In a recent case out of Kentucky, one woman has just endured a second hung jury over her alleged financial exploitation of her grandmother. Her attorney has summed it up as a family squabble. He maintains that his client's grandmother wanted her to have the property and money, and jealous family members have accused her of a crime. So far, at least somebody on each jury has agreed.
If you find yourself in a similar situation, contact a defense attorney, like those at Bayley & Mangan Law Office, as soon as you realize that you're being accused of elder abuse and are under investigation. By contacting an attorney before you reveal too many details of a private situation to the police, you may be able to better protect yourself against false charges.