Financial Exploitation of Elders
-by Laura Pioch, Associate
Maine’s population is aging, and some people see that as an opportunity. If you or a loved one have been taken advantage of, there is recourse.
When it comes to U.S. states with high percentages of senior citizens, Maine nears the top of the list. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau projects that Maine will have more senior citizens than young persons by 2020 – a whole 15 years earlier than the rest of the country. With the population of senior citizens only increasing, it is imperative for Maine seniors and their loved ones to be mindful of the vulnerable situations seniors could find themselves in.
Recently, a nurse at a Maine hospital was indicted for exploiting a senior citizen on felony counts of theft and misuse of entrusted property of a vulnerable person. Back in 2017, an elderly patient brought a civil complaint for improvident transfer of title against the nurse, alleging that she wrongfully received hundreds of thousands of dollars from him. A settlement agreement has been reached in that complaint, and a criminal case is pending.
You have likely heard similar horror stories of senior citizens being financially exploited in this way, either in the news or from personal experience. And while roughly 87% of elder abuse or exploitation is perpetrated by a family member, senior citizens can also find themselves targeted by other people they trust.
Recognizing Financial Exploitation of Elders / Improvident Transfer of Title
A claim with a name like improvident transfer of title might sound daunting, but it essentially means that someone has been taken advantage of and has transferred money or property as a gift or at a reduced value.
If you suspect that you or a loved one has been taken advantage of in this way, there are some specific things you can look for to validate your concerns and actions you can take to correct the situation.
Maine’s improvident transfer of title law allows the Court to void/undo certain transfers of money or property made by an elderly person, and it allows either the elderly person, their legal representative, or a personal representative of their estate to bring this civil claim.
The specific requirements of such a claim are:
- The “elderly” person must be at least 60 years old;
- The “elderly” person must have been wholly or partially dependent upon one or more other persons for physical or emotional support at the time the transfer was made or must have had certain defined physical or emotional deficits (such as vision, hearing, mobility problems, emotional or mental functions deficits, or such as facing or recovering from a major illness or surgery);
- The transfer must have been of real estate or of money or personal property with value equal to or greater than 10% of the elderly person’s net worth;
- The person to whom the property was transferred did not pay full value for the property;
- The elderly person was not represented by an attorney at the time the transfer was made; and
- The transfer was made to a person with whom the elderly person had a special relationship, such as a family member, neighbor, or friend, or someone with whom the elderly person had a professional relationship, like the nurse in the example described above.
If all the elements described above are met, then the Court will presume that the transfer was the result of undue influence and will act to “undo” the transfer and order a return of the elderly person’s property or money.
It is important to note that even if all the elements noted above are not met (so the presumption does not apply), a person may still have a valid claim of undue influence if they can show that they were unfairly persuaded to transfer property to another person for less than full consideration.
Either way, an attorney can help restore victims of undue influence to their former selves. In the above-mentioned nurse case, our civil litigation attorney, Dan Stevens, filed suit against the nurse and was able to obtain a return of the money that the nurse had wrongfully persuaded the elderly clients to give to her. You can read more about the civil and criminal aspects of the case here.
If you or a loved one have been taken advantage of, or if you are an attorney looking to refer an improvident transfer case to someone with experience, please feel free to contact Dan Stevens at firstname.lastname@example.org or 207-430-3288.