How Can You Tell If Your Parent Is Being Financially Abused -- And What Should You Do?
If you have a parent who requires daily assistance with personal tasks, but work full-time and are unable to perform this care yourself, you may be thankful to have hired a regular caregiver to provide nursing care and companionship. While this situation can often work out wonderfully for both the person in need of care and the adult child, in some cases it may give rise to financial abuse. You might find that your caregiver has stolen items from your parent's home, or persuaded your parent to give over control of bank accounts. What are your options? Can you file a lawsuit on your parent's behalf? Read on to learn more about financial abuse, as well as your potential recourse if you find that your relative's caregiver is taking advantage.
Why are the elderly particularly vulnerable to financial abuse?
The aging process naturally brings with it certain changes in brain chemistry and structure. Scientists believe that these changes may weaken the parts of the brain that are able to determine whether someone is telling the truth. The isolation inherent with in-home nursing care can combine with this biological vulnerability to create the perfect breeding ground for scam artists -- particularly when the target has substantial assets, as many elderly do.
After a caregiver obtains a patient's trust, he or she may begin making small requests -- such as borrowing money from the patient to buy groceries before payday, or using the patient's car to run a quick personal errand. The patient will likely think nothing of granting these minor favors for the person providing daily companionship. Once these small favors have been met, the caregiver may feel free to take liberties with larger requests, with or without the patient's permission. In some cases, the patient may never know (or realize) he or she is being swindled; in others, the patient may be aware but unwilling to "rock the boat" by speaking up.
What should you do if you suspect your parent is being financially abused?
If you suspect -- or have proof -- that your relative's caregiver has stolen valuables or exploited your parent, you have several options. First, you may want to report the theft or fraud to your local police force. Be prepared with a new care plan before taking this step, as your parent's care needs won't cease when his or her caregiver becomes unavailable. However, most states take elder fraud very seriously, and your parent's caregiver could find him- or herself facing felony charges and prison time. He or she may also be ordered to pay restitution to your parent.
In cases in which there isn't quite enough evidence for criminal charges, but you still feel you can demonstrate that your parent's caregiver engaged in fraud, you may be able to help your parent file a personal injury lawsuit against the caregiver. If your parent is incapacitated or you have a legal guardianship, you can file this lawsuit on your parent's behalf. Because the standard of proof in a civil case is lesser than that in a criminal case (which requires proof of guilt "beyond a reasonable doubt"), it's likely that you can prevail in a personal injury lawsuit even if the prosecutor declines to file criminal charges against the caregiver.
If a personal injury judgment is entered against the caregiver, your parent will have the right to seize bank accounts, garnish future wages, and take other legal action necessary to recoup any funds that were stolen. Your parent may also be awarded additional damages for emotional trauma or other after-effects of this abuse. You'll want to consult with an attorney experienced in elder abuse to determine whether your parent has a strong case.
You can read more here about working with an experienced lawyer in your area to address this problem.