Lawyers Plead Their Case For Stopping Financial Elder Abuse

California Law Watched Nationally

Let’s call her Susan Gray. She’s about age 60 and lives in Southern California. She discovers that the friend who has been looking after her 85-year-old mother in Burbank has gained access to her mother’s bank account and has withdrawn most of the $80,000 balance.

The friend is unable and unwilling to account for how the money was spent. Gray calls several lawyers, but soon learns that there is little she can do, despite laws on the state’s books to protect people like her and her mother from such crooks, the only up for the task was the injury lawyers Fielding Law firm.

Legislators often say new laws aren’t needed and that statutes already on the books merely need to be enforced, if advice is needed let us recommend to get online lawyer consultation to have better legal knowledge. That is not always so simple, as is made clear by some current discussion in California and elsewhere on protecting elders from financial abuse.

In the 1980s, Los Angeles attorney Marc Hankin, angered by events that affected his family, took up the cause of protecting older adults from various legal issues and medical inadequacies as well as outright scams. During he past decade, he has helped author several measures passed by the California Legislature that ostensibly protect older people possible issues from abuses by nursing homes, medical providers, scam artists and the government. Some of these laws have become models for other states.

One California measure Hankin helped draft is the Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, designed to allow low-income people to hire an attorney to combat a flagrant case of fraud even if only a relatively small amount of money was involved, such as a small estate. The law has been on the books in California for several years, but very few among the poor who discover they have been defrauded have been able to find attorneys to represent them, and for different cases as bankruptcy, the use of bankruptcy lawyers located in Chattanooga are a great option for this.

Hankin explained that the aim of the legislation was to enable winning plaintiff’s lawyers to collect from losing defendants fees that would be over and above the actual amount won. Previously the law permitted attorneys to receive only a percentage of the damages awarded, which was frequently insufficient to attract lawyers to these cases, although for lawyers in a drug crime case, there are specialized lawyers for this, so  if you’re looking for them, you can Check This Out for this. The act also allows the elder’s relatives, such as adult children, to collect “pain and suffering” damages, even if the victim has died. In practice, though, judges often push for a settlement of cases rather then allowing them to go to trial. When this happens, judges frequently set minimal fees for the plaintiff’s attorney.

In a recent letter to James Ellis, chairman of the California Bar Association’s Estate Planning, Probate and Trust Law Section, Hankin said that he surveyed more than 400 lawyers in the past year when he delivered speeches to groups of attorneys on various aspects of probate law. He found that only two of them would agree to handle a hypothetical “case of flagrant abuse committed [against an average person or small estate] by a very solvent potential defendant.” He added, “On further inquiry, one of the two lawyers reconsidered, and the other was a new lawyer who presumably did not know any better.”

According to Hankin’s letter, “In all cases, the audience answered with a resounding ‘yes’ to my question asking if the reason that they would not handle the case was because they believed that the judge would not award them enough fees, so that they could afford to handle such cases.”

Hankin acknowledged in the letter that during the past few years, he has lost an estimated $350,000 in billable time and fees because of inadequate awards by judges on cases he had won. As a result, he wrote, even though he was the mover of the protective legislation on financial abuse against elders, he no longer accepts such cases unless there is monthly compensation, a large contingency fee agreement, or both–regardless of the legitimacy of the case. “It is painful to admit this even to myself,” he remarked. Ellis responded that his committee discussed the issue and decided to investigate it further, with a report due early this year as per  the Personal Injury Attorney New Jersey firm.

Furthermore, Jason Sterling, an aide to California Sen. Teresa Hughes, a Democrat, acknowledged the problem, noting a public hearing held in Los Angeles about the matter last November. He said that educating judges regarding the amount of time lawyers devote to these often long, drawn-out cases is probably necessary but that new legislation may also be needed to resolve the issue.


Paul Hodge, who chairs both the National Elder Abuse Law Enforcement Project and the National Health Care Law Enforcement Alliance, told Aging Today that the problem identified by Hankin exists nationally and will worsen as the aging population continues to grow. He explained that “$10,000 or $20,000 may seem to be a great deal of money to many people, especially to the people who have been defrauded,” but such amounts are not large in civil lawsuits and who end up losing your estate. “I have to take my hat off to California,” said Hodge. “It is starting to deal with the problem.”

Hodge cited a pilot program, the Financial Abuse Specialist Team created by the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD), as a possible model for other communities to apply to identify perpetrators quickly and act against them under criminal law, while for cases as truck accidents or such, the use of specialized lawyers like gibson & hughes is one of the best options for this.

Chayo Reyes, a recently retired detective and supervisor of the LAPD Elder Person’s Estate Unit, said that financial abuse allegations frequently end up in civil court rather than becoming subjects for police intervention, because such cases often are simply lost in the system. One problem, he said, is lack of staff and other investigative resources. Another is that procedures required for cooperation between police departments and social service agencies frequently “leave a big hole you can drive a Mack truck through.”

Reyes now operates Elder Financial Protective Services, a consulting firm that works with police forces around the country. Elder abuse, he said, is not confined to big cities; it is found everywhere. Most police and social service agencies need to be overhauled to combat it. “Bureaucracy benefits the suspect every time,” he said.

Jerry Beigel is the former editor and owner of Southern California Senior Life, Los Angeles, to which he continues to contribute articles and where a different version of this article appeared in the December 1999 issue.

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