California Elder Financial Abuse: What Is It?

Elder financial abuse is a growing trend against dependent adults and those age 65 and older. California laws which protect seniors in nursing homes, adult day care facilities and in-home health care have now been extended to financial matters. Our legal expert explained the law, and its applicable statute of limitations, in a recent interview.

What is elder financial abuse?

To answer that question, we asked J. Niley Dorit, a California attorney whose practice represents those injured by elder financial abuse. Here's what he told us:

Elders are people 65 years old and older, according to the law. The law also protects those who are under 65 who are “dependent adults” unable to carry out normal activities and are unable to protect their rights. What the elder financial abuse law does is it extends the laws protecting elders and other adult dependents who might be victims of physical neglect and it applies those laws into the financial arena. So, what that means is that if they're elders or dependent adults who have been the victims of improper financial or counseling activities, then they are protected under those laws.

There are very helpful laws in California that can provide them with a means to do a number of things, including getting their money back and recouping any losses that they’ve suffered, according to Dorit. “In certain circumstances the law provides for the payment of attorneys' fees from the person who harmed them. So there are some very helpful laws that are supportive of California elders in the financial area.”

How do you differentiate between elder financial abuse and someone just making a bad financial decision?

Dorit says that these cases are looked at from a couple of perspectives – one is the sophistication level of the elder involved and the other is simply the age category. He explained:

An elder is somebody defined as 65 or older and that class of people is afforded additional protection under the law that’s not available to people who are younger. So you look at the sophistication of the elderly person and you look at the advisor or investor, whoever it is that’s taking advantage of them, and compare those things. It ultimately comes down to whether the transaction is harmful to a person by virtue of their age. So, if there’s an extraordinary imbalance between their ability levels, there’s a trust factor between the elder person and the advisor and that trust factor is abused.

Obviously, if we’re dealing with cases where we have elders who have any kind of medical or physical condition or impairment – early signs of Alzheimer’s, dementia or other diseases which may be age related – and during the period of time where they’re able to function effectively in life and enter into a transaction that’s harmful, then an elder financial neglect case would be available to them.

What is California’s statute of limitations for filing an elder abuse claim and does California have a discovery rule?

The statute of limitations to file a lawsuit in California is four years, according to Dorit, who says that California also has a discovery rule – so the elder has four years to file a lawsuit after discovering that they've been harmed. “That’s good, because in some cases they may not be aware of the situation for quite some time. There may be financial shenanigans that have gone on for some period of time and they just are not aware that it’s happening. So, when you learn that somebody has harmed you, that’s when the clock starts ticking.”

If you are a loved is a victim of financial elder abuse, click here to contact an attorney to review your case free of charge.