DEAR READERS: Do you have a legal question on your mind? If so, please email me. Your name will remain confidential. This Q & A Legal Column is intended as a community service to discuss general legal principles and does not create an attorney-client relationship.
I believe my 84-year old Uncle (who has early signs of dementia) is being hood-winked by a “good neighbor” who now controls his ATM card, under the guise of shopping for him. When I try to talk to Uncle Rick, he just smiles and says everything is OK. What if it’s not OK and my uncle is getting ripped off? What can I do?
Indeed, there are many good souls in our community that lend a helping hand to our deserving seniors. But, as the saying goes, it takes one bad apple to spoil the entire bunch, right? Taking advantage of our elders is a nationwide, systemic issue. It takes many forms, for example, a scammer calling “grandma” insisting that she send money to bail her grandson from jail; a son who feels “entitled” to the family home, and thus persuades his parents to sign everything over to him.
“Elder abuse” is the legal jingle. The California Bar Association estimates that one out of every seven senior citizens fall victim to “elder abuse”—mostly by family members, sadly. Check out their free pamphlet which offers quick and easy tips on how to identify and minimize elder abuse. www.calbar.ca.gov/Public/Pamphlets/ElderAbuse.
Other practical tips come to mind:
Tip #1: Talk, Listen, and Plan:
As we wind down another year, now is a good time to talk to those you love and listen to their needs. Make sure they kick-start the New Year with a viable estate plan i.e. Will, Trust, Durable Power of Attorney, and Health Directive. Yes, you will likely have to hire an estate planning attorney for the preparation of the necessary legal documents. However, having an estate plan in place is key, especially as one ages and needs to rely on others. Consider appointing a private fiduciary as a neutral third party to oversee the estate plan. Our local Sonoma County Council on Aging oversees a fiduciary program. Contact Connie Aust at 707-525-0143, extension 108.
Tip #2: Reach out to Local Resources
The Sonoma County Family Justice Center has an “arm” that reaches out to elder abuse victims The Center is a “one-stop-shop” it offers insights and resources on a variety of issues, including elder abuse. An advocate from the Council on Aging is housed there as well. The Family Justice Center is located in Santa Rosa on Mendocino Avenue. Call 707-565-8255.
Tip #3: Call Adult Protective Services (APS)
APS offers a 24/7 phone line (707-565-5940) to assist it’s “target population” i.e. individuals over 65 . An intake will be conducted to identify the nature of the problem. Once the intake is completed and the problem(s) are identified, APS is will then send a social worker to the home within 10 days for a “face-to-face” voluntary meeting with the senior. The APS representative is professionally trained to recognize financial, physical, and emotional abuse by self or by others, but can only help if the senior is agreeable. The APS representative will complete a “Risk Assessment” to help determine the needs of the elder. In 2013, APS completed over 4,000 home visits/reports in Sonoma County. Check out APS’ website on resources: www.socoaaa.org.
Tip #4: Visit the Empire Law School Elder Law Clinic
Law students, under the direction of a licensed attorney, offer a walk-in Elder Law Clinic on Thursdays from approximately 4:00 to 6:00 pm at the Salvation Army Silvercrest Retirement Center, 1050 3rd Street, Santa Rosa.
My hope for you, Naysayer, is that the “good neighbor” is indeed stocking Uncle Rick’s fridge with healthy foods. Stay alert. Keep open communication with your Uncle. Let him know that if things go awry, laws are in place to protect him and local resources are nearby to help.
We need to honor our twilight years. We all hope to experience them. As Robert Frost quipped, “The afternoon knows what the morning never suspected”.
Debra A. Newby is a resident of Monte Rio and has practiced law for 32 years. She is a member of the California, Texas and Sonoma County Bar Associations. She maintains an active law office which emphasizes personal injury law (bicycle/motorcycle/motor vehicle accidents, dog bites, trip and falls, etc.) and expungements (clearing criminal records). Debra can be reached via email (firstname.lastname@example.org), phone (707-526-7200), or fax (526-7202).