Unfortunately, our elderly are exploited all too often in today’s society. When an elderly loved one requires supervision you must rely on the person taking care of him or her to provide adequate and responsible care. This is also true for someone with power of attorney or who serves as a guardian or trustee for your loved one.
Unfortunately, some trustees, guardians, caregivers, and even family members will take advantage of their position of trust and confidence to misuse the elderly person’s assets to their own benefit. Trustees, guardians and others in positions of trust may misuse an elderly person’s assets and convert funds for their personal use.
In addition, some businesses (including certain nursing homes, medical providers, roofers, contractors, arborists, siding and window companies, and others) may take advantage of the elderly. Most are ethical and honest, but some see elderly people as prime targets. Elderly homeowners can be charged for services and goods they never receive; they may be charged for services and goods that they do not need; or they may be charged rates that are well above market rates.
Florida recognizes the vulnerability of elderly persons and has enacted laws that provide protections against these types of exploitation. These laws include both civil remedies and criminal punishments.
Pursuant to Section 772.11, Florida Statutes, elderly adults, their guardians, or other duly authorized representatives may file a claim in civil court against the person or persons committing the exploitation. Successful parties may be entitled to recover:
- Reasonable attorney’s fees;
- Cost of the law suit;
- Actual damages; and
- Treble damages (damages in the amount of 3 times the actual damages).
The purpose of the treble damages is to discourage others from engaging in this type of conduct.
A person or business agent accused of the exploitation of an elderly person or vulnerable adult can also be charged with a crime. Depending on the value of the funds, assets and/or property involved, these individuals face first, second, or third degree felony charges, which can result in imprisonment if found guilty.
Signs of Financial Exploitation
Financial exploitation is sometimes easy to identify but often it is more subtle. Monitor the loved ones bank accounts and credit card statements to look for:
- Large withdrawals or needless transfers of funds from the bank account;
- Checks made payable to cash or a higher number of withdrawals than is normal;
- Abnormal purchases made for goods or entertainment;
- Abnormal spending on credit cards;
- A change of bank account title or beneficiary designations; and
- Unexplained fees to an estate planning attorney.
Also pay attention to the actions of the caregiver. Red flags are if they charge an excessive fee, take the senior on an expensive vacation, or engage in other questionable activity. In addition, if the elderly person owns property, you should also regularly review public records to ensure that it has not been transferred.
When you know, or even just suspect, that your loved one is the victim of elder exploitation, don’t wait until he or she is destitute to take action. Request a free consultation from the experienced elder care attorneys at Lieser Skaff Alexander in Sun City Center, DeLand and Tampa. We will evaluate your case and determine if you or your loved one might be eligible to collect damages due to elder exploitation.