“Unfortunately, this kind of financial and other elder abuse was not a one-off occurrence,” notes Will Sleeth, a partner in national law firm LeClairRyan’s Williamsburg office and leader of the firm’s Estate and Trust Litigation team. According to published reports, victims of elder financial abuse lose an estimated $2.6 billion dollars a year; and while one of every 20 older adults has admitted to being victimized by some form of perceived financial mistreatment, it’s believed that only one in 44 cases of financial abuse is even ever reported.
“I’ve handled over 100 estate disputes, and in a sizeable number of those cases, elder abusers committed an array of unethical actions including isolating, threatening, and pressuring elderly people to change their estate plans,” Sleeth writes in a recent blog, Recognizing Signs of Elder Abuse (and Traits of Elder Abusers). His post appears in the firm’s Estate Conflicts, which focuses on disputes involving wills, trusts, guardianships, and celebrity estates.
Children of elderly parents, and others who love these vulnerable individuals, need to be vigilant on their behalf, he advises. “One big mistake that I see people make is assuming that because a person is neither poor nor uneducated, ‘he can’t be an elder abuser,'” explains Sleeth. “Nothing could be further from the truth. Frequently, elder abusers are educated, at least partially well-off, and socially sophisticated. Don’t err by thinking it wouldn’t make sense for them to abuse.”
The best way to safeguard them is to be alert, Sleeth advises. “In many of the estate disputes that I’ve litigated that involve elder abusers, there is a paper trail of prior bad acts by the elder abusers,” he says. “Often, this paper trail is easily available on the Internet.”
In Sleeth’s experience, elder abusers have included disgraced medical professionals, lawyers who were disciplined or who lost their licenses, convicted felons, and businesspeople caught up in shady schemes. “In all of those cases, a family member or friend who spent about 15 minutes doing a basic Internet search could have learned about the prior misconduct,” he counsels.
A history of litigation can also be a red flag. “I’d say that in over half of the elder abuse cases that I’ve handled, we’ve been able to confirm that the abuser tried to prey upon a prior victim too,” he notes. “In Virginia, a person can search the circuit court case information system and the general district court information system to try to ascertain whether a person has previously been sued.”
Other early warning signs are so-called investment advisors who suggest odd, opaque or risky funds, or who recommend an “investment club” run by “a friend,” he adds, noting that people who tend to shy away from much social contact may also be more likely to take advantage of a vulnerable senior. “I have never seen an elder abuser who was the PTA President, a member of City Council, or a high-level executive at a reputable company. They tend to have a very small circle of friends,” Sleeth writes. “They also tend not to be extensively involved in social organizations that would bring them into contact with large numbers of people.”
In the end, he suggests, “if you suspect that something ‘just doesn’t seem right’, please take action and consult with your locality’s social services department, and depending upon the severity of the situation, legal counsel.” It could save a loved one from a great deal of suffering.
The full column is available at http://estateconflicts.com/
As a trusted advisor, LeClairRyan provides business counsel and client representation in corporate law and litigation. In this role, the firm applies its knowledge, insight and skill to help clients achieve their business objectives while managing and minimizing their legal risks, difficulties and expenses. With offices in California, Connecticut, Delaware, Georgia, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington, D.C., the firm has approximately 380 attorneys representing a wide variety of clients throughout the nation. For more information about LeClairRyan, visit www.leclairryan.com.