January 18, 2024

Financial Elder Abuse

"I know when I see it." Jacobellis v. Ohio, 378 U.S. 184, 197 (1964) (Stewart, J., concurring).

While there is obviously a legal standard for proving financial elder abuse, a cursory reading of the factual summary in a financial elder abuse case often yields an immediate recognition of the wrongdoing. That is, one can know when they read it.

"Felice and James married in 1978. Felice and James had no children of their marriage, but each had children from their previous marriages. Appellant Falb was James's daughter from a previous marriage, and respondent Lynne Scherer (Scherer) was Felice's daughter from a previous marriage. James died February 28, 2018. Felice died June 10, 2020, during the pendency of this matter."

"At the relevant times, Felice and James had four bank accounts: (1) US Bank checking account ending 6578, held in joint tenancy; (2) US Bank money market account ending 2001, held in joint tenancy; (3) Chase Bank checking account ending 5875, held as trustees of the Family Trust; and (4) Chase Bank savings account ending 5575, held as trustees of the Family Trust. In October 2017, James withdrew half of the balance from each of these bank accounts. The total withdrawn from the bank accounts was $291,569.26. Falb drove James to both banks to make those withdrawals. On the same day, Falb and James opened a joint account at Chase Bank into which they deposited all of the funds withdrawn from Felice and James's four bank accounts."

"In April 2018, after James's death, Falb had two cashier's checks issued to herself from the joint account at Chase Bank in the total amount of $285,474.30. She deposited this money into a new account at Union Bank in her own name."

"In May 2019, after James's death, knowing that Felice was in Colorado, Falb hired a locksmith to enter the Property and rekey it. She later rented a small truck to remove what she claimed was her personal property from the Property. She took a mechanical bed, three flat screen televisions, a typewriter, and a sewing machine.[2]"

"After James's death, Felice was unable to locate a signed copy of the Family Trust and was therefore unable to administer the Family Trust. In March 2018, Scherer asked Falb if she was in possession of the Family Trust document; Falb claimed she was not. Falb claimed she found the Family Trust document in May 2019 in her garage in a box of books given to her by James in late 2017."

"In any event, substantial evidence supports judgment in Scherer's favor on the financial elder abuse claim. The trial court made findings that Falb took and "appropriated" the money in question by assisting James in withdrawing the money. To appropriate means "to take without permission." (Webster's 3d New Internat. Dict. (1986) p. 106.)[7] The court also found Falb had taken and hidden the only executed copy of the Family Trust; taken, appropriated, and hidden items of personal property; and prevented Felice from selling the Property by pursuing the probate petition. These findings were sufficient to support a conclusion that Falb's conduct was undertaken for a wrongful purpose within the meaning of Welfare and Institutions Code section 15610.30, subdivision (b)."

Falb v. Scherer, San Bernardino County Superior Court case no. TRUPS1900250