Older adults are vulnerable in more ways than one. Older adults must maintain their retirement accounts and other assets besides their declining physical and mental health. Age and disease can impair a person’s cognitive capabilities, making it challenging for seniors to manage their finances.
Typically, seniors can assign a relative or trustee to help manage their assets. But this isn’t always a foolproof option. Elder financial exploitation (EFE) is a real risk, and a study revealed that senior victims of EFE lose about $28.3 billion annually.
EFE happens when an elder’s real or personal property is misappropriated or stolen by someone whom the senior has a relationship of trust with. It’s a crime to exploit the elderly in Texas financially, and the penalties for anyone convicted are severe.
What counts as financial abuse of older people?
Per Texas law, financial abuse can refer to wrongfully taking, retaining and using the money or property of an older adult by any means. These means include extortion, coercion, intimidation and even misrepresentation. Even if no violence was committed against a senior, a trustee could face elderly financial abuse charges if they trick a senior into investing in a scam or transfer funds from an older person’s bank into their own, for example.
Trustees or relatives entrusted with control over a senior’s living trust could also face accusations of financial abuse if they exert undue influence on the older person to gain control of their decisions.
Penalties for elderly financial abuse
The punishments for those convicted of financially abusing elders vary depending on the value of the misappropriated property.
The offense is a Class B misdemeanor if the wrongfully obtained or used property was worth less than $100. On conviction, a person faces up to 180 days in jail and must pay as much as $2,000 in fines.
At the highest levels, the offense becomes a felony of the first degree if the property misappropriated is worth $150,000 or more. This can lead to a life sentence or a term of up to 99 years on conviction.
EFE is a severe offense. Even a trustee or relative who thinks their financial advice will help a senior person may be misconstrued as financial abuse if other relatives accuse them of exerting undue influence over older people. Those accused of EFE should not take the charge lightly, especially since the penalties for conviction include decades in prison.