Published on:

Is Favoring a Relative in Your Estate Plan Proof of Elder Abuse?

It is an unfortunate reality that many people take advantage of the elderly and the mentally infirm. California has laws to prevent such elder financial abuse. Among other things, the law prohibits “excessive persuasion that causes another person to act or refrain from acting by overcoming that person’s free will and results in inequity.” For example, pressuring an elderly woman with dementia to sign a last will and testament naming a particular individual as the sole beneficiary of her estate could be considered elder financial abuse.

Court Rejects Daughter’s Allegations Against Nephew

But just because an elderly person may not be as sharp as they once were, that does not mean he or she is a victim of elder financial abuse. Nor does it necessarily defeat any estate plan the elderly person might have made. A recent California case helps illustrate this point.

In this case, a 96-year-old grandfather sold his house and moved into an assisted living facility. The grandfather was particularly close to one of his grandsons. The funds from the sale of the house were deposited into a joint account owned by the grandfather and grandson. The grandson use the funds from the account to pay for his grandfather’s care and, with his grandfather’s approval, invest in the real estate market. After the real estate market collapsed in 2008 and the joint account’s funds were exhausted, the grandson continued to support his grandfather from his own funds.

After the grandfather passed away, a dispute broke out between the grandson and his aunt, one of the grandfather’s two surviving daughters. The aunt, acting as special administrator of her father’s estate, accused the grandson of elder financial abuse. She said the grandson’s actions deprived her of her rightful bequest under the grandfather’s will, as the estate apparently had no assets.

The probate court ultimately rejected these claims. Aside from the fact the daughter waited too long to bring her claims under California law, the Court of Appeals noted there was insufficient evidence of any elder abuse on the part of the grandson. To the contrary, the appeals court credited the probate judge’s findings that “decedent and [the grandson] were like father and son, and decedent had agreed to fund [the grandson’s] construction business so long as [the grandson] took care of him.” The grandson did so, and even investigators acting at the daughter’s behest found the grandfather to be “alert, oriented, and well cared for” prior to his death. The appeals court further dismissed as meritless the daughter’s complaint that the decision to deposit the funds from the sale of her father’s house into a joint account somehow constituted abuse because it “left the decedent’s estate ‘penniless.’” The court said this did not undermine the terms of the grandfather’s will.

Get Advice from a California Estate Planning Attorney

Family members are often displeased about their inheritance, or lack thereof, from a particular relative. In some cases this disappointment leads to litigation. That is why it is important to get your affairs in order well ahead of time. An experienced San Diego estate planning lawyer can assist you in preparing a will, trust, or any other documents you may require. Contact the Law Office of Scott C. Soady if you need to speak with an estate planning lawyer today.

Contact Information