Unfortunately, South Florida is a breeding ground for financial exploitation and financial abuse of the elderly. With it’s large population of wealthy retirees, many exploiters flock to this area in search of their next victim. These exploiters often aren’t strangers, or hiding in the shadows ready to snatch an elderly person’s purse or wallet. Most often, they are friends, family members, caretakers, person’s whom the elderly person trusts. The elderly person is vulnerable to the exploiter’s influence because they trust them but are deceived, or they were intimidated, likely because they felt isolated and had no other options. As a result, the exploiter can quickly and unexpectedly ruin an elderly person’s financial well being, in addition to any future inheritance they may have hoped to bestow on other family, friends or charity organizations.
The abuse can come in many forms aside from just neglect and physical abuse. It can also include an abuse or misuse of a power of attorney, a breach of fiduciary duty by a trustee, civil theft, fraud, forgery. Ultimately, the financial abuse tends to cause the most damage as it often leads to the elderly or vulnerable adult depleted of funds, which with increasing healthcare bills, they no longer have long term care security, let alone passing any inheritance on to their children and loved ones.
There’s always time, until it’s too late. Most often, the exploitation tends to occur in isolation and without much notice as the exploiter usually wouldn’t appear to be a threat. But there is hope through Florida Statutes, Chapter 415, to protect the elderly and disabled from exploitation, neglect and abuse.
Florida Statutes provide both criminal charges and civil lawsuits that can be pursued against the exploiters for exploitation of an elderly or vulnerable adult. Without getting into the criminal action or process of pursuing criminal charges on this particular page, my experiences with elderly exploitation cases, both criminal and civil, have shown the prosecution of a criminal case can be long and frustrating to say the least. Local law enforcement agencies are either understaffed, underfunded or, sadly, rank financial crimes against the elderly rather low on their list of criminal enterprises to combat. The feeling quite often expressed by law enforcement officers regarding the problem with arresting and charging the exploiters (especially family members) is that its futile. Many of the cases go unreported or aren’t discovered until after the death of the elderly person. I have heard directly from these officers who have claimed there are just too many ill-willed opportunists, both friend and foe, waiting in line to exploit the next elderly adult for financial gain so why bother. As a result, far too many of these perpetrators go unpunished.
While criminal charges can be pursued under a separate chapter of the Florida Statutes, experience has been that law enforcement believes financial crimes are better dealt with in the civil arena, which fortunately is provided in Chapter 415 of the Florida Statutes.
Chapter 415 of the Florida Statutes defines “elderly exploitation” as a person who:
1. Stands in a position of trust and confidence with a vulnerable adult and knowingly, by deception or intimidation, obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use, a vulnerable adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive a vulnerable adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult; or
2. Knows or should know that the vulnerable adult lacks the capacity to consent, and obtains or uses, or endeavors to obtain or use, the vulnerable adult’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the vulnerable adult of the use, benefit, or possession of the funds, assets, or property for the benefit of someone other than the vulnerable adult.
(b) “Exploitation” may include, but is not limited to:
1. Breaches of fiduciary relationships, such as the misuse of a power of attorney or the abuse of guardianship duties, resulting in the unauthorized appropriation, sale, or transfer of property;
2. Unauthorized taking of personal assets;
3. Misappropriation, misuse, or transfer of moneys belonging to a vulnerable adult from a personal or joint account; or
4. Intentional or negligent failure to effectively use a vulnerable adult’s income and assets for the necessities required for that person’s support and maintenance.”
The legislature provided that the elderly person may recover actual and punitive damages for such abuse, neglect, or exploitation. Equally important is the fact that the statute, Chapter 415, allows the exploited person, that person’s guardian, organization acting on behalf of the exploited person, or even the personal representative of the estate of a deceased victim of exploitation to initiate and recover on the claim
Please remember, if your older relatives, parents, grandparents, older loved ones or close friends are no longer calling you or answering or returning your calls, then they may be a victim of isolation and deception prior to complete financial exploitation. In nearly all financial exploitation of the elderly cases Mr. Taylor has experienced, the theft tends to start small –extra grocery money needed for this, missing $500 check, $300 lunches on credit cards in the elder victim’s name, etc. Catching these things early, knowing the things to look for can save the victim from a complete financial disaster and further, the victim, (or the victim’s estate) can seek full recovery of the amount taken in addition to punitive damages
If you, a person you know, a family member or loved one has been the victim of elderly abuse, neglect or financial exploitation, or if you suspect someone might be, please contact a florida estate litigation attorney, or an experienced elderly exploitation attorney immediately, as time is not a luxury one has when dealing with crimes involving financial exploitation of an elderly victim.