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Financial Exploitation in Nursing Homes: What Families Need to Know in 2024

Nursing homes and other care facilities provide an essential service for the elderly in the form of around-the-clock care by skilled professionals. But nursing homes are far from perfect. While the vast majority of nursing home staff are compassionate caregivers, they are nonetheless human, and there are always bad actors willing to exploit the vulnerable. Financial exploitation of elders in nursing homes is more common than most would like to believe. The families of nursing home residents need to know what it is, how to identify it, and what to do if it occurs, and our California nursing home abuse attorneys can assist with all three. 

How Financial Exploitation in Nursing Homes Occurs 

Financial elder abuse refers to a broad category of behaviors. Under California law, it occurs where the perpetrator “takes, secretes, appropriates, obtains, or retains real or personal property of an elder or dependent adult for a wrongful use or with intent to defraud, or both.” (Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15610.30(a)(1).) Property is deemed to be taken for “wrongful use” if the perpetrator knew or should have known that the conduct was likely to cause harm to the elder victim. Any assistance with wrongful taking of a senior’s property is also financial elder abuse.  Cal. Welf. & Inst. Code § 15610.30(a)(2).

In nursing homes, financial abuse and exploitation can occur in several ways, including: 

  • Theft of the victim’s cash, checks, or personal items 
  • Unauthorized use of the victim’s credit or debit cards
  • Charging the victim for unnecessary care or services
  • Charging the victim for services not rendered
  • Over-billing the victim for necessary care or services 
  • Forging the victim’s signature on checks or other financial documents
  • Inducing the victim to change their estate planning documents to favor the perpetrator through undue influence 
  • Misappropriating funds entrusted to the facility by the victim (embezzlement)
  • Illegally using the resident’s personal identifying information through identity theft 

Anyone can commit financial elder abuse in a nursing home setting, including caregivers, business managers or other employees in the nursing home’s business office, owners and operators, administrators, and others.

Risk Factors for Financial Exploitation in Nursing Homes 

The elderly are vulnerable to a wide range of abuse and exploitation, but nursing home residents are particularly susceptible because they typically are the most dependent on others for their care. While financial exploitation of the elderly can occur anywhere, nursing homes are particularly fertile ground for it, as their residents are, by definition, isolated from their friends, family, and community. Nursing home staff have virtually unrestricted access to their patients and their patients’ living quarters, giving them easy access to their belongings. 

Individuals with the following attributes tend to be at a higher risk of becoming the victims of financial exploitation in nursing homes: 

  • Poor physical health 
  • Speech and language impairments 
  • Cognitive impairments, including dementia 
  • Difficulty managing the activities of daily living 
  • Difficulty forming prosocial relationships 
  • Difficulty managing finances 
  • Isolation from friends and family members
  • A history of self-neglect 

The presence of these factors in a nursing home resident does not guarantee that they will become the victim of financial exploitation. On the other hand, their absence does not guarantee that they will not become the victim of financial exploitation. Family members of nursing home residents should merely be aware of factors that can increase the risk. Never, ever let an older loved one grant a financial power of attorney to anyone working at the nursing home or any caregiver. For more information about risk factors for financial exploitation, please contact a San Francisco nursing home abuse attorney

How to Recognize Financial Exploitation in a Nursing Home Setting 

Some forms of elder abuse are more obvious than others. For example, physical elder abuse often leaves behind physical evidence like scars, bruises, and broken bones. Other types of abuse, including financial abuse and exploitation, are more insidious, making them more difficult for family members to detect. Without direct evidence of financial elder abuse (e.g., video footage of a nursing home employee stealing from a resident), family members must use other means of detection. 

The following are red flags that can indicate financial exploitation:

  • Missing cash, checks, debit and credit cards, and personal items
  • Overdue bills including the nursing home’s monthly rent 
  • Checks written out to “cash”
  • Unexplained transactions in the victim’s account history
  • New bank accounts or individual accounts that have been changed to “joint” accounts 
  • Gifts to recipients the family does not know 
  • Executed powers of attorney to individuals the family does not know 
  • Unexpected changes to the victim’s will or other estate planning documents
  • Sudden or unexpected changes to the victim’s credit score 
  • Foreclosure notices or liens on the victim’s real property 
  • Calls from creditors 

If you notice any of these red flags, you should act swiftly to minimize potential financial damage. A California nursing home abuse attorney can assist you in investigating your suspicions and determining whether financial exploitation is occurring. 

Legal Options for the Victims of Nursing Home Financial Exploitation and Their Families 

The victims of nursing home financial exploitation and their families have several options for responding to abuse. The first line of defense against financial exploitation in nursing homes is to submit a report to the Long-Term Care Ombudsman in the county where the abuse is alleged to have occurred. Interested parties may also pursue civil claims under the California Elder Abuse and Dependent Adult Civil Protection Act, which authorizes private causes of action for elder abuse against nursing homes and other care facilities for the elderly. The Act further authorizes California courts to issue protective orders (i.e., restraining orders) to enjoin further acts of financial exploitation. Successful litigants under this act who show by a preponderance of the evidence that the defendant has engaged in financial elder abuse are entitled to enhanced damages in the form of an award of reasonable attorney’s fees and costs.

Work With a San Francisco Nursing Home Abuse Attorney to Stop Financial Exploitation  

All nursing home residents are capable of becoming the victims of financial exploitation — even if you think it can’t happen to your loved one. The best way to prevent such abuse is to take an active role in your loved one’s care. For more information about financial exploitation in nursing homes, please contact a California nursing home abuse attorney at the Evans Law Firm, Inc., by using our online contact form or calling 415-441-8669 or toll-free at 1-888-50EVANS (888-503-8267).

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