Financial abuse of the elderly

Shame, Embarrassment and Privacy Laws Shouldn’t Allow Financial Elder Abuse

One of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial abuse.

For example, a family member or someone who has developed trust with an elder systematically takes funds from the vulnerable adult’s accounts. Look at the epic tale of Ms. Huguette Clark, where court documents point to years of an organization’s financial exploitation of a wealthy senior.

Earlier this year, articles emerged about the questions swirling around Ms. Clark’s large gifts to Beth Israel Medical Center in Manhattan. An article in NY Times explains that Beth Israel “went after her [Ms. Clark] in an all-out fund-raising campaign,” within months after Ms. Clark arrived at the hospital as a patient. Records from court filings reveal that BI’s then chief executive, Dr. Newman, was involved in the coercion of gifts. Dr. Newman even watched the Smurfs with Huguette, while discussing the “joys of making a will.”

Huguette Clark, wealthy copper heiress, stayed for decades at Beth Israel and donated millions of dollars. - Image credit: AP

Huguette Clark, wealthy copper heiress, stayed for decades at Beth Israel and donated millions of dollars. – Image credit: AP

The respected non-profit hospital convinced Huguette to stay there for years, despite the fact that she did not require constant medical monitoring or care. As part of its elaborate efforts to siphon off some of Ms. Clark’s fortune, she was admitted in 1991 and remained there until she died.

By 1998, she was paying more than $1,200/day to reside at the hospital. All the while, Huguette “donated” $4 million, not including the millions of dollars that she paid to reside at Beth Israel nor the $1 million bequest to the hospital that appears in her contested will.

While most seniors are not nearly as wealthy as Ms. Clark was, financial abuse is growing as a major issue among this large segment of our population. A Metlife study estimated the loss at more than $2.9 billion in 2010. The General Accounting Office (GAO) reported recently, “As the U.S. population ages, growing numbers of older adults could be at risk of financial exploitation, so its potential impact on society is likely to increase.”

On several levels, we need to find a better way to address this serious problem. Individual family members need not feel ashamed or too embarrassed to report financial abuse of a senior. On a large scale level, eight federal regulatory agencies have issued a joint document that clarifies privacy rights and responsibilities for employees of financial institutions.

This guidance is important because so many companies have expressed concern that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act, aka the Financial Services Modernization Act of 1999, gives privacy greater priority than fraud prevention. Now, a teller or credit union member may no longer feel that her hands are tied, even when they have strong evidence of fraud perpetrated against an elderly customer. As one of the first people to defend a senior against fraud, a bank/credit union employee may file a report when there are suspicions arising from a huge withdrawal or large, repeated “payments”.


About Kevin

Kevin Coluccio was recently named one of the Top 10 Super Lawyers in Washington State. He has long history of successful elder abuse/neglect cases and has a stellar reputation for getting results for his injury clients in serious car crashes, pedestrian accidents, trucking accidents, maritime claims, and asbestos injury cases.