California Court Discusses Damages for Financial Elder Abuse

People that have substantial assets will often feel pressure to provide for their children financially. In some cases, pressure can progress into outright manipulation.  Older individuals are particularly vulnerable to financial abuse, and tragically, are sometimes coerced by their children into modifying estate planning documents to preclude other beneficiaries. Elder financial abuse is unlawful, though, and parties found guilty of committing such acts may face significant penalties. For example, a California court specifically held that double damages could be imposed for the commission of elder financial abuse even absent a finding of bad faith. If you believe your loved one is a victim of elder abuse, it is in your best interest to meet with a California probate and trust lawyer to evaluate your options.

The Facts of the Case

Allegedly, the plaintiff and the defendant, who are brother and sister, each had complicated relationships with their parents. The plaintiff relied on his parents for financial support throughout his adult life, at one point borrowing $75,000 from them. The defendant was estranged from her parents for a long time because they could not accept her sexuality. Thus, she was largely precluded from recovering benefits from the trust the parents established.

It is reported that the mother passed away, and the defendant and her father reconciled. The father then amended the trust so that the estate would be divided equally between the plaintiff and the defendant. The plaintiff then saw an email the defendant had written accusing him of elder financial abuse. He subsequently made his father execute a statement denying the abuse. The father died a few weeks later. Shortly before his death, he transferred thousands of stock shares and the deed to his property to his son.

The defendant then filed a lawsuit against the plaintiff, alleging claims of elder abuse. A judge found for the defendant, and the plaintiff appealed, arguing in part that double damages were not warranted absent a finding of bad faith.

Damages for Financial Elder Abuse

The appellate court disagreed with the defendant and affirmed the trial court ruling. The court explained that when courts interpret statutes, they must uncover the intent of the legislature to give effect to the purpose of the law while carefully giving the words their common sense, plain meaning. The court noted that the law in question provides that if a court determines a person has in bad faith wrongfully concealed, disposed of, or taken property belonging to an elder or trust, or obtains the property via undue influence in bad faith or elder abuse, the person will be liable for twice the value of the property recovered.

The court found that the law unambiguously stated when a finding of bad faith is necessary for double damages. In other words, it was not necessary when a person takes property via elder abuse. As the trial court in the subject case found that the plaintiff disposed of the property in question via elder abuse, no finding of bad faith was necessary, and the appellate court affirmed the trial court ruling.

Meet with a Trusted California Probate and Trust Attorney

Financial abuse of elderly individuals may not only bring about economic distress it often also causes emotional and mental trauma as well, and people who engage in such behavior should be held accountable. If you need assistance seeking justice for elder financial abuse, you should meet with an attorney as soon as possible. Ethan M. Weisinger is a trusted probate and trust litigation lawyer who can advise you of your rights and help you to seek the best outcome available under the facts of your case. You can reach Mr. Weisinger at 925-258-2020 or through the form online to set up a conference.

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