April 28, 2022

Financial Elder Abuse

Occasionally I receive inquiries from concerned individuals who ask if their relative or friend has been the victim of financial elder abuse. The applicable law, Welfare & Institutions Code §15610.30, states that financial elder abuse occurs when a person or entity does any of the following:

  1. Takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with the intent to defraud, or both.
  2. Assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both.
  3. Takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains, or assists in taking, secreting, appropriating, obtaining, or retaining, real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult by undue influence, as defined in Welf & I C §15610.70.

A recent unpublished appellate opinion described a case in which financial elder abuse occurred. Of note, the below excerpts from the opinion obviously do not recite the entire factual history.

"In 2015, Robert suffered from Alzheimer's dementia and experienced rapidly declining physical and mental health. In the summer of that year, he was hospitalized and, in August, recovered for several weeks in a rehabilitation facility.

In the middle of September, Miriam arrived from Texas and began living with Robert at the five-plex. The morning after her arrival at his home, she brought up the topic of Robert's estate with one of his nephews (Michael Sturm), who was then living at the five-plex. By that time, Robert had left the rehabilitation facility. Respondent Sturm, who had power of attorney over Robert's finances, was assisting Robert with his finances and care.

In the fall of 2015, Miriam made a number of significant changes to Robert's life. The day after Miriam's arrival, Sturm received a call from Bank of America that Miriam was attempting to withdraw cash from Robert's account. Over the following two days, Sturm received additional calls from the bank related to Miriam's attempts to withdraw money from Robert's account. After moving in with Robert, Miriam posted an eviction notice seeking to evict Sturm's brother (Michael Sturm). In response, Michael moved out.

Miriam also caused changes to be made to Robert's estate planning documents. In mid-September 2015, Miriam had Robert sign durable powers of attorney for his finances and health that appointed her as his agent. Robert also executed a revocable living trust and will dated September 19, 2015. The trust favored Miriam, Miriam's children, and Stephen and Michael Sturm.

On October 21, 2015, Robert signed an amended trust document that removed Sturm and his brother Michael from the trust and favored Miriam, her daughter Priscilla Olsen, Miriam's son, and Robert's other nephew. That same day, Robert purportedly executed a pour-over will naming Miriam as the executor of his estate. The will was lodged with the Santa Clara County Superior Court on October 23, 2015.

"In the spring of 2016, a trial occurred in the elder abuse case before Judge Scott, at which witnesses testified, including Miriam. In May 2016, Judge Scott ruled against Miriam and issued a permanent restraining order prohibiting Miriam from contacting Robert for three years. The court found Miriam had committed financial elder abuse against Robert. As summarized by the trial court in its statement of decision in the proceeding at issue here, "Judge Stuart Scott in connection with the elder abuse trial, found that [Miriam] engaged in a `full court press' to take control of Robert Broumas's property during his lifetime."

Broumas v. Sturm, Santa Clara County Superior Court case # 17-PR-181558