As we age, we become more at risk to undue influence, abuse, and neglect – by some who can profit from our financial resources and other assets. Cases of abuse are rarely prosecuted as criminal matters – they are rarely reported. In most communities, people generally don’t know how to report an elder abuse case. California has recently enacted a law (Welfare & Institutions Code Section 15610.30) designed to address elder financial abuse and to motivate incentivize victims, their families, and even their lawyers to take action.
Simply, a person 65 years or older is an “elder” under California’s law. Financial abuse occurs when a person assists in or takes real or personal property of an elder for a wrongful use or with the intent to defraud. Elder financial abuse can also occur when a person uses undue influence to take real or personal property of an elder.
The legislature has opened the door to a wide range of potential monetary remedies. The abused can seek compensatory damages, punitive damages and possibly treble damages under Civil Code Section 3345, a statute aimed at protecting senior citizens. Attorneys who assist the victim in obtaining damages, can receive attorneys fees from the abuse perpetrator. Additionally, if a claim for elder abuse is brought by a conservator, trustee, or other representative of the estate of an elder, he or she may be entitled to double-damages under Probate Code Section 859 in addition to the remedies set forth above.
California has recognized the need to punish those who abuse elders, and its statutory scheme may go a long way to protecting our aging citizens and to redress wrongs committed against them. Perhaps Utah will address this important issue as well.