- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Tumblr (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Reddit (Opens in new window)
- Click to email this to a friend (Opens in new window)
- Click to print (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pocket (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Telegram (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on WhatsApp (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Skype (Opens in new window)
By: Judie Rappaport
Date: December 6, 2011
If you believe your parent or client is insulated from Abuse and Exploitation, think again. Studies estimate that more than 2.5 million older people each year are injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended for care or protection, with 90% of the abuse committed by a perpetrator known to the elderly victim. 1
If you find those estimates horrifying, you’ll find reality even more chilling:
• For every 1 case of elder abuse, neglect, exploitation, or self-neglect reported to authorities, about five more go unreported. 2
• In the year 2000, estimates put the overall reporting of financial exploitation at only 1 in 25 cases, suggesting that there may be at least 5 million financial abuse victims each year. 3 The numbers are certainly higher today.
• Data of domestic elder abuse suggests that only 1 in 14 incidents excluding (excluding self neglect) come to the attention of authorities. 4
Elder abuse doesn’t discriminate; it crosses all socio-economic boundaries. Neglecting or denying its existence leads to unnecessary suffering, unimaginable physical and emotional pain, and in the worse-case scenarios, death.
If you’re a financial/legal advisor for elders or special needs clients, the chances are excellent that one or more of your clients are being abused. The abuser may be a family member or hired caregiver who exercises power and control over your physically frail or cognitively impaired client or loved one. Your loved one’s or clients’ cries for help may go unheard if they are unable to communicate effectively. They also may fear harsher abuse or abandonment by her caretaker—in other words, they may feel trapped and powerless.
Society, backed by federal and state legislation, is now paying more attention to this heinous crime. Although there is still no federal law protecting elders from abuse, all states have adopted laws specifically targeting elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation and many states have adopted clear criminal penalties for elder abuse.
If your business model has been to steer clear of involvement in domestic and healthcare issues, it’s time to reconsider:
- Most states have statutes mandating reporting of suspected abuse. “Mandated Reporters” include financial, legal, healthcare, and other professionals and advisors, as well as Caregivers.
- As a Mandated Reporter, you risk your license, your reputation, and your assets by not understanding the law and assisting clients who are in danger. If you participate in the abuse, you risk prosecution and imprisonment. (live link to Florida Statutes)
The Most Prevalent Types of Elder Abuse 5:
Elder Abuse is a broad description for any knowing, deliberate, or careless act that causes harm or serious risk of harm to an older person.
- Caregiver/Family Neglect (58.5%): Failure to keep vulnerable adults safe and provide for their physical and emotional needs.
- Physical Abuse (15.7%): Use of force to threaten or physically injure an elder
- Emotional abuse (7.3%): Use of verbal attacks, threats, rejection, isolation, demeaning acts that cause mental anguish, physical and emotional decline
- Financial Exploitation (12.3%): Theft, fraud, misuse or neglect of authority, and use of “undue influence” as a lever to gain control over an older person’s money or property.
- Sexual (0.04%): Forced, tricked, threatened, or otherwise coerced sexual contact from elders or anyone who is unable to grant consent
- Self-Neglect/Abandonment: (Included in “All Other Types” 5.2%): Abandonment: Desertion of a frail or vulnerable elder by anyone with a duty of care. Self-Neglect: an inability to understand the consequences of one’s own actions or inaction, which leads to, or may lead to, harm or endangerment.
Warning Signs for Families & Professionals:
- Trust your instincts. When I doubt, err on the side of caution. The signs of Elder Abuse run the gamut from the obvious to the almost invisible. If your instincts tell you something is wrong don’t wait for proof: call the victim’s family or a professional advocate to assess the situation. If your loved one or client is in immediate danger, call 911 immediately and remove the victim from the premises.
- It’s important to remember that victims may be experiencing multiple types of abuse. While one sign does not necessarily indicate abuse, experience tells us which warning signs should mandate a call for help:
Warning Signs: Neglect – Self Neglect:
- Victim appears to be receiving insufficient care and attention to wants and needs given their history and financial status.
- Bedsores, unattended medical needs, poor hygiene, and unusual weight loss are often indicators of neglect or, at the very least, an untrained, inadequate caregiver who should be immediately replaced.
- Absence of necessities including food, water, heat, medicine, clothing
- Poor grooming and appearance (soiled or ragged clothing, dirty nails and skin)
- Inadequate living environment evidenced by lack of utilities, sufficient space, and
- Animal or insect infestations; hoarding animals, hoarding papers, trash
- Signs of medication mismanagement, including empty or unmarked bottles or outdated prescriptions
- Unsafe housing as a result of disrepair, faulty wiring, inadequate sanitation, substandard cleanliness, or architectural barriers
Warning Signs: Physical & Emotional Abuse:
- Bruises, pressure marks, broken bones, abrasions, and burns are cause for suspicion and investigation no matter how plausible the explanation.
- Unexplained withdrawal from normal activities, a sudden change in alertness, and unusual depression may be indicators of physical and/or emotional abuse.
- Behavior such as belittling, yelling, threats and other uses of power and control by spouses, children, or caregivers.
- Strained or tense relationships, frequent arguments between the caregiver and elderly person may also be signs of abuse and exploitation.
- Victim appears nervous or afraid of the person accompanying him
- Victim is denied needed medical equipment and assistive devices: eyeglasses, hearing aids, dentures, commodes, walkers, wheelchair
Warning Signs: Financial Exploitation:
- Victim is not allowed to speak for himself or make decisions
- Caregivers or family members who refuse to let you talk to your client or loved one unless they are present. Isolating the victim from those who care about him and can help is one of the first signs of exploitation and abuse
- Sudden changes in financial habits (increase in number of checks or amounts of withdrawals, increase if number of checks written for even amounts, increase is charge account balances or debit card usage, or changes in bequests are often the result of financial exploitation.
- Sudden increases in debt
- Sudden change in address for financial documents
- Sudden changes in banks, sudden transfers to other banks, sudden changes financial or legal advisors, beneficiaries, doctors, living arrangements, Power of Attorney, or Health Care Surrogates are often due to exploitation and abuse
- Recently opened joint accounts
- Signatures appear correct but amounts are written in different handwriting and/or different ink
- Victim appears nervous or afraid of the person accompanying him or is accompanied by an acquaintance who appears too interested in his assets
- Victim supplies questionable explanation or is confused about missing funds or money management, or is unable to remember financial transactions or sign paperwork
If you suspect elder abuse, collaboration is the key to protecting your client. When you see unexpected and unexplained changes in personality and behavior, call for professional assistance and evaluation. You do not have to prove abuse.
Remaining alert may help save your loved one or client from serious emotional or physical harm and from financial ruin.
1. Gregorie Trudy, “The Special Needs of Elder Abuse Victims,” www.ccvs.state.vt.us/pub_ed/special_needs.html, and National Center on Elder Abuse, American Public Human Services Association. September 1998. The National ElderAbuse Incidence Study 1996: Final Report Washington, DC: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Administration for Children and Families and the Administration on Aging.
2. Washington, DC: National Center on Elder Abuse at American Public Human Services Association
3. (Wasik, John F. 2000. ‘The Fleecing of America’s Elderly,” Consumers Digest, March/April.)
4. Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation in an Aging America, 2003. Washing DC National Research Council Panel to Review Risk and Prevalence of Elder Abuse and Neglect
5. (Pillemer, Karl, and David Finkelhor. 1988. The Prevalence of Elder Abuse: A Random Sample Survey,’ The Gerontologist, 28: 51-57.)
- Financial Abuse (financialelderabuse.wordpress.com)
- National Organization to Stop Elder Abuse and Guardianship Abuse (larkkirkwood.wordpress.com)
- More Senior Citizens Falling Prey To Scams (philadelphia.cbslocal.com)
- Scammers’ Favorite Victims Suffering Huge Losses (huffingtonpost.com)
- Ripping off grandma: How the elderly are vulnerable to fraud (theglobeandmail.com)
- Gone Without a Case: Suspicious Elder Deaths Rarely Investigated (propublica.org)
- Study Factors That Affect Abuse of Older People in Nursing Homes (risablairlovitz.com)
- Elder Abuse & Financial Crimes: What’s it all about? (donnagore.com)
- Saving Seniors! (seniorssites.wordpress.com)
- Elder Abuse & Financial Crimes: What’s it all about? (larkkirkwood.wordpress.com)
- The Takeaway: Top Scams Targeting Older Adults; Hospital Errors Go Unreported (aarp.org)
- Example of Elder Abuse In Shakespeare’s King Lear (chicagonursinghomelawyerblawg.com)
Guardian crimes get ‘cover’ from government agencies
Recent admissions by government agencies pledged to provide oversight for those handling the affairs of the most vulnerable of American citizens — the elderly and disabled — point to systematic ‘cover’ being granted professional conservators and guardians. The degree of ‘cover’ provided those pledged to care for the elderly and infirm could be seen as providing absolute immunity for acts of criminal misconduct.
Guardianships (also called conservatorships in some states) are generally initiated through court proceedings when there are allegations that a person is lacking capacity and unable to care for his own affairs. Upon the appointment of a guardian, the alleged incapacitated person may lose all access to his property and assets and may also lose the rights to make his personal decisions, such as where he will live, whether or not he may see family and friends and whether or not he will receive medical treatment.
He also generally loses the right to hire an attorney to defend against this grave revocation of rights. It must be stressed that these guardianships are launched on allegations alone, and no proof of incapacity may be provided or required.
Ernest Moore was alarmed when he received the reply to his complaint to the California State Bar. The Los Angeles man had provided proof to the State Bar that attorneys had lied to the court, misrepresenting assets belonging to his mother, who is under a conservatorship. After denying the merits of his complaint, the responding SB attorney advised him that “the court where the matter is pending is the appropriate forum to determine whether either (attorneys named) engaged in improper conduct. If that court makes a specific factual determination of misconduct . . . you may contact this office with a copy of the court record for further consideration.”
It has been the long-standing mandate of the State Bar to discipline attorneys. A call to the media representative for the California State Bar confirmed the suspicion that there was no legal basis for the statement made by the state bar attorney that the court was the proper venue for Moore’s concerns. Moore’s complaint, incidentally, included transcripts which backed up his contentions that the attorneys lied to the court.
But Moore’s complaint focused on attorney misconduct in the guardianship of his mother; and true to the mandates of ‘cover’ for those involved in guardianships, the State Bar denied his complaint.
Similar response letters have been issued by the California Professional Fiduciaries Bureau. When Janis Schock received a notice that her complaint about misconduct by professional conservator Ron Olund had been closed, she was equally surprised to learn that she, too, was advised that the proper forum for her complaint was the court where the proceedings took place. The PFB was so embarrassed by the attention given this misstatement of law by their analyst, Angela Bigelow, that they reopened Schock’s complaint. And shortly thereafter, closed it again.
Schock was actually fortunate. Most complainants to the PFB find that they receive no notification that their complaints have been closed. It was only after three or four requests for information as to the dispensation of his complaint that Joseph Quattrochi learned his complaint had been closed seven months prior. Jamie Lamborn received a phone call advising her that her complaint was being closed. Her requests that this be put in writing have not met with a reply. These illustrations are typical rather than the exception.
The short history of the PFB has been marred by difficulties. A Los Angeles Times series in 2005, “Guardians for profit—when a family matter becomes a business” shocked its readership with disclosures of misconduct and predatory behavior by unlicensed fiduciaries and guardians.
Responding to the public outcry, the California legislature passed a package of new laws. Entitled the Omnibus Conservatorship Reform Act of 2006, the Act mandated the formation of a new agency, the Professional Fiduciaries Bureau. This new bureau, housed in the Department of Consumer Affairs, was charged with the responsibility of licensing fiduciaries and conservators and also investigating and disciplining allegations of their misconduct.
Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill into law in 2006 then proceeded to line-item veto all funding for the new agency for two years running. The PFB did not open its doors for business until 2008.
A recent response to a public records act confirmed what had been suspected concerning the Bureau, which had, according to many complainants, been functioning without any apparent rudder or rationale in terms of its dispensation of complaints. In an email dated January 27, 2012, DCA press officer Russ Heimerich admitted that the PFB had no written guidelines in terms of a policies and procedures manual.
The implications of that admission deserve further scrutiny. As the PFB deals with matters of alleged criminal misconduct, its functioning could be considered to be quasi-legal. Imagine, for a moment, going to court to discover there were no procedures and no guidelines governing your case. Imagine calling 911 for assistance to find that the police had no guidelines for determining their response to your call. The result would be chaos.
In addition to failing to produce written guidelines for its functioning, there are other notable gaps in the functioning of the PFB. The board which is to oversee the PFB functioning has a glaring omission — the seat on the board reserved for an elder advocate has remained empty now for years. The other board seats, including professional fiduciaries and members of the public, are filled but the board has now met for session after session without the input of someone with the interests of the elderly foremost in mind.
It gets worse. Recent public records act requests by complainants have resulted in a curtain of secrecy being drawn. Complainants who wish to see what sort of investigation and conclusions were conducted by the PFB are finding that their requests to see their files are being denied.
A recent email by PFB chief Gil Deluna cited 6254 f of the Government Code as the justification for his denying the production of the file to a complainant. However, 6254 f affirms the right of a victim to see his complaint file.
Deluna has not responded to repeated requests to discuss his interpretation of 6254. Press officer Russ Heimerich has only stated that the perception that a victim may get his file is “wrong” and adamantly refuses to discuss why.
The annual report of the PFB confirms its dismal performance record. The report (http://www.dca.ca.gov/publications/09_10_annrpt.pdf) states that for the fiscal year of 2009-10 there were zero criminal or civil actions filed. There were zero cases initiated by the Attorney General and zero dollars ordered or received for consumer restitution. To its credit, the Bureau reports it did deny one license application for a professional fiduciaries license.
Equally, the office of the California Attorney General recently returned a bundle of complaints by victims of California conservatorships. An email from the Executive office of the AG explained that the office does not cover probate. Requests for the legal authority allowing AG Kamala Harris to ignore crimes committed by conservators have not engendered a reply.
If this all seems very technical, consider the overall picture. Someone goes to court and says that you can’t handle your own affairs. There is no attempt made to prove this allegation, and, as a result, you lose all access to your money and cannot hire an attorney to get it back. In addition, you may not be getting medicine you need, or you may be getting medicine you don’t need. You have no right to object to this, and if a family member tries to intervene, the guardian may have a restraining order issued against him. You are subsequently isolated and may be withheld food and water, or you may be visited by a nurse with a hypo full of deadly morphine.
This appears to have been the fate of a growing number of conservatees, including Corinne Bramson, Lawrence Yetzer, Elizabeth Fairbanks and Raymond Horspool, to name just a few.
And after your funeral is paid for, out of your assets of course, the guardian and his attorneys go to the bank.
Is this picture getting clearer?
Read other reports by Janet Phelan here.
You can support this story by voting on Reddit: http://www.reddit.com/r/conspiracy/comments/qepek/guardian_crimes_get_cover_from_government_agencies/
Janet Phelan is an investigative journalist whose articles have appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The San Bernardino County Sentinel, The Santa Monica Daily Press, The Long Beach Press Telegram, Oui Magazine and other regional and national publications. Janet specializes in issues pertaining to legal corruption and addresses the heated subject of adult conservatorship, revealing shocking information about the relationships between courts and shady financial consultants. She also covers issues relating to international bioweapons treaties. Her poetry has been published in Gambit, Libera, Applezaba Review, Nausea One and other magazines. Her first book, The Hitler Poems, was published in 2005. She currently resides abroad. You may browse through her articles (and poetry) at janetphelan.com