FAMILY LAW ARTICLES
Once upon a time, this senior citizen was a happy, healthy, bright and chipper grandma. Her adult kids lived not far away, and she helped raise her grandchildren with love and generosity.
Grandma, her kids, and her grandkids aged – as they are supposed to do. But as time went on, her adult children got caught up increasingly in their careers, family difficulties, volunteer work – you know, life. They visited less and less. Grandma found herself becoming more distant from family, but more involved with the church. She missed her family, though…
Most of the grandkids would come by infrequently – they’d see her for the big holidays. They had become adults, too… the youngest grandchild was headed off to college, the oldest grandchild going through her own divorce with a couple kids of her own. A couple of the middle grandkids would infrequently call.
One Grandson in particular began calling, more and more frequently. Life was so hard, Grandson was so lonely, didn’t know what he was going to do… and he was oh-so-worried about Grandma, “all alone in that big old house.” After several long phone calls and a couple of lunches, one day Grandma came home and found that Grandson had moved into her home. Grandma asked what he thought he was doing, and Grandson responded, “Don’t you remember? You said I should come live with you…?” Some cajolery, some tears, and though Grandma didn’t remember, Grandma said, of course, Grandson could stay, just for a while. Just ‘til he’s back on his feet.
Grandson cheered right up. “It’ll be so much fun! We’ll do so much together, and I’ll take such good care of you…!”
Grandma believed him.
Fast-forward. Two years later, Grandson is still in the house. Grandma is cut off from her remaining friends, not permitted to go to church, or the bank, the grocery store, or even to family gatherings. Grandson tells everyone “She’s so weak, I’m so worried about her.” Grandma tries to complain the Grandson is intercepting her pension checks, won’t let her see bank statements. Grandson tells the family, “She’s really slipping, I think she has Alzheimer’s.” He tells a good story, manfully fights back a few tears, and the family is sympathizing with Grandson. Grandma is so ungrateful!
One day – thank God! – one of Grandma’s oldest and dearest friends comes to visit. Surprise! Grandson is not around. Best Friend gets in the house, starts listening to her old pal… starts investigating. Best Friend takes Grandma to the bank, the post office… the library, where she runs a credit check. And what she finds:
- Grandma’s savings account is just about gone. In two years, Grandson had withdrawn over $250,000. This was so easy to do, once Grandson started getting the mail for Grandma. Just being helpful.
- Grandma has a bunch of debt she never had before – credit cards which had all been opened and run up by Grandson – to the tune of over $90,000. That, too, started when Grandson began intercepting the mail, and all those lovely credit offers.
- Grandma’s credit rating is now thrashed, because Grandson hasn’t been using those pension checks – or that $250,000 she withdrew – to pay down the credit card debt in Grandma’s name.
Best Friend brings Grandma to us. We find out, quickly, that Grandson also talked Grandma into putting Grandson’s name on title to the house. He was so very convincing; he convinced Grandma that if she got sick no one could kick him out if his name was on title. “So, I can take care of you. You don’t want them to sell the house and put you in a home, do you?”
“Of course, I don’t, sweetie. I’m so glad you are taking care of me.”
“I love you so much, Grandma!” At that point, I’d venture to say Grandson did love her very much. Grandma was a gold mine.
Grandma and Best Friend confront Grandson. Grandson tells Best Friend to get out, tells Grandma he’ll kick her out of her own home if she tries to do anything.
Note: Grandson hasn’t committed any physical violence against Grandma at this point. What he has done is engage in a course of conduct constituting financial abuse of an elder.
Our first step was to get an Elder Abuse Restraining Order against Grandson. He’s out of the house.
Then we filed a legal action to a) get Grandma’s house put back in her name alone, by voiding the deed that added Grandson’s name to the title, and b) recover the money stolen from Grandma’s bank account.
Grandma chose to file a different action in Bankruptcy Court to shed of all the credit card debt Grandson had run up in her name. We wanted her to go to the police, but Grandma didn’t want to “make trouble in the family.”
This story has only a semi-happy ending. Grandma has her home, and she’s safe. Her savings is gone, and unrecoverable. She’s free of the credit card debt. Grandson has three criminal charges against him for violating the Elder Abuse Restraining Order, repeatedly. [FN1]. And Grandma’s family is split over the whole thing; oddly, her children have taken no steps to protect her, or comfort her, throughout all this. Grandma is selling her home and moving into a nice place with Best Friend and two other older women she’s known for many years, and who missed her when Grandson started telling them Grandma was “too sick to talk” to them anymore.
I think Grandma will be okay. She seems happy, now that she has her life back. I worry about her, though.
If you have a senior in your family, or circle of friends, or church group, go check up on them. Help them get out, and about, and around. Encourage him or her to keep volunteering, to stay connected. Isolation increasingly leads to victimization for our seniors. And if you think a senior in your circle of awareness is being victimized, call someone. Anyone.
Adult Protective Services is overwhelmed with the uptick in elder abuse cases.
The police may well say they can’t do anything, that “It’s a civil matter.”
If that’s the case – hire an attorney. But hire one who’s good at protecting seniors.
FN1. It so happens Grandson also has a few court appearances related to a substance-abuse habit which went back several years.