Two recent and sad stories involving financial abuse of the elderly have come to light locally. The first story is the tale of Evelyn Roth, an 83-year-old esophageal cancer patient who signed a power of attorney for her cousin and niece, who then liquidated her assets. The now-indicted relatives, Virginia Kuehn and Kathleen Jingling, told investigators the “doctors guaranteed us she would die by August.” (Another example of the problem with medical care in America? You can’t rely on the doctors’ guarantee? I think not.) As poor Roth stated, “The only thing is, I didn’t die in time.”
What is it about people that when they are given a little bit of power (through a legal document like a power of attorney, through a joint bank account set up just to “help” with paying bills, or through a fiduciary position like a trustee), and a little bit of money, that their brains short-circuit and they start spending it as if it were their own? It’s not their money! There is no entitlement! There is no “well, nobody is going to know, so I’ll just take a bit from here or there!” As Roth’s cousins are learning, it’s not only unethical, it’s also illegal.
Gayla Ross just learned from a jury verdict in Washington County, Oregon, that she may have time in prison to contemplate her bad acts in taking $1 million from her 87-year-old mother, Clara Philpot, to finance Ross’ luxury home – and Philpot has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease since 2002. As the court-appointed guardian stated, ‘It took Gayla less [than] two months to squander a lifetime of work.”
Now the mortgage company is also in the cross-hairs, as the guardian proceeds with a lawsuit on behalf of Philpot.
Be alert. With the aging population and an economy that may well bring out the worst in some people, financial elder abuse is a serious concern.
- Get an attorney to prepare for estate planning, power of attorney, trust, or other legal needs well in advance of it ever becoming a problem;
- Hire a criminal or civil attorney to recover losses;
- Call the Oregon statewide hot line to report abuse: 1.800.232.3020;
- Report abuse at Aging and Seniors and People With Disabilities.