Persons over the age of 50 control 70% of the wealth in our country. Because seniors are perceived as slowing down mentally or, in the case of those who are either recently widowed or divorced, as being unsophisticated in handling their finances, they are often targets of financial abuse. In an internal memo produced in a case in which we were involved regarding selling financial products to seniors, the author noted at the bottom, “And always remember the weak, the meek and the ignorant were always good targets.” Humboldt County is no different than the rest of the state, and seniors in Humboldt County have recently been the targets of a number of financial scams.
Recognizing that the elderly are often the target of financial scams, the California Legislature adopted Welfare and Institutions Code §15610.30. That legislation broadly defines financial abuse as any occasion where a person or entity “takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property of an elder (defined as those 65 or older) for a wrongful use, or with intent to defraud, or both.”
Where it is proven by a preponderance of the evidence that a defendant is liable for financial abuse, the court is required to award compensatory damages and also reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.
Further, if a plaintiff can show financial abuse, a plaintiff may also obtain compensatory damages for pain and suffering. If the victim has passed away, the defendant may still be liable for pain and suffering of the victim on a showing that the defendant acted with recklessness, malice, fraud or oppression.
While there are few reported cases under Welfare and Institutions Code §15610.30, it is, nevertheless, a strong protection against financial abuse of seniors in California.