Financial abuse of the elderly in California includes a broad range of crimes from out-and-out theft of money or property, to improper use of assets; from breaching a fiduciary duty to safeguard assets, to coercion or financial exploitation.
Orange County’s population of people 65+ will be nearly 25% of all residents in the next 25 years. And, “elders” in Orange County are getting older – the fastest growing demographic here are those 85+. People over 50 control about 70% of the nation’s wealth.
California has enacted special laws that seek to protect older people from financial harms and financial crimes.
Age can affect decision-making abilities. The rapid rate of change in how the world works, social isolation among seniors, and the growing complexity of financial instruments and processes all set the stage for financial abuse of older adults.
Children, friends or other caregivers are sometimes called upon to help an older adult with financial decisions or money-handling tasks, placing them in the position of strongly influencing the financial decisions of older adults. Or, seniors are often reluctant to ask for assistance with finances from those close to them and become easy targets for pitchmen, scams, identity theft, or financial fraud.
What is Elder Financial Abuse?
Simply stated, senior financial abuse is theft, embezzlement, forgery, or financial exploitation against an elderly individual.
In California statutes “elder” is defined as any person 65 and over. Two significant laws focus specifically on financial crimes against the elderly. Penal Code 368 and the Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act.
Penal Code 368 addresses increased protection for seniors from financial crimes; and the Financial Elder Abuse Reporting Act imposes the duty to report suspected financial abuse on every citizen, and specifically employees of financial institutions.
An individual or corporate offender of financial abuse laws can be subject to both criminal and civil action under California’s elder abuse laws.
Financial Institutions & Elder Financial Abuse
All employees of financial institutions are “mandated reporters” of elder financial abuse. If they have knowledge of or observe abuse, or suspect someone is a victim of abuse in Orange County they must report it to the County of Orange Adult Protective Services, a local law enforcement agency, or the Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse.
Penalties for Elder Financial Abuse
Elder abuse is a wobbler offense in California, meaning it can be filed as either a misdemeanor or a felony, depending on the circumstances and criminal history of the suspected offender, and the amount involved.
A misdemeanor conviction is punishable by up to one year in jail and a hefty fine.
A felony conviction can lead to two, three or fours years in state prison and a heavy fine.
Mandated reporters of financial abuse face a fine up to $1000, or if the failure to report is “willful” the fine may be as high as $5,000.
Defending Elder Financial Abuse
Family members and other caretakers are in a unique position for potentially being accused of financial abuse. They often find it necessary to assist seniors with their financial affairs and can be vulnerable to accusation. Accusations often stem from confusion, unintentional financial harm, misunderstanding, or even family jealousies.
Prosecutors must show that there was intent to permanently deprive the elderly person of money or property or to defraud them. It is not merely enough that some financial harm occurred, but it must be shown there was the intention to steal or defraud. If someone acts in good faith for, or on behalf of, the senior they cannot be guilty of financial abuse.
Orange County prosecutors are aggressive when pursuing financial abuse allegations. Because statutes related to elder abuse are broad in California, it is vital to have an experienced criminal defense attorney at your side if you find yourself suspected of financial abuse. Financial abuse is a serious crime and has far-reaching consequences for reputation, finances, and having a criminal record.
The attorneys at the Law Offices of David A. Stein are available for a no-cost consultation about any financial or elder abuse matter. With experience in Orange County criminal defense, we have the experience and relationships with prosecutors to help you mitigate the impacts of an elder abuse charge against you. Call us today at our Irvine offices at 949-445-0040 or email us online here.