Mediation and Estate Planning Blog

Financial Elder Abuse In Silicon Valley

Elder abuse can occur in many different forms: physical, financial, psychological, social, etc. One of the most daunting and unfortunately widespread forms of elder abuse is the financial abuse. Because it is difficult to detect, it can linger for years before being uncovered, proved and prosecuted.

California has defined financial abuse of an elder (a person over 65) as when a person or entity takes real or personal property of a elder for a wrongful use and/or with intent to defraud. It also occurs when a person takes real or personal property by undue influence.

1. Sell mom and dad’s real estate properties

In what is referred to as “Silicon Valley” in California housing values have skyrocketed over the last decade. This has left many elders in the position of having a great amount of equity in their homes which have been paid off for years. For example, a house located in Cupertino (Santa Clara County) purchased for $52,500 forty-five years ago recently sold for over $2,200,000. This trend is confirmed in many of the Bay Area main cities such as San Jose, Campbell Cupertino, Saratoga, Los Altos, Los Gatos, Milpitas, Mountain View, Palo Alto, Belmont, Burlingame, Menlo Park, Redwood City, San Bruno, San Carlos, San Mateo, Fremont, etc.

When a child is maneuvering to sell the elder’s real estate properties - it should be determined if this is absolutely necessary in order to improve the elder person’s current well being.

2. Longevity of the elders and dependence

As elders age and live longer, many times they suffer from some form of cognitive impairment. For instance, they may become confused about paying their bills and other financial issues which may arise and seek the assistance of a child or other family members. This can lead to one of the most common forms of elder financial abuse. The “helper” will convince the elder to make him or her the trustee of the elder’s trust or to give them a power of attorney to allow unlimited access to their finances. The helper usually starts out with the best of intentions to help the elder, but as time goes on the helper begins paying their own personal bills from the elder’s bank account, or writing themselves large checks for questionable purposes.

Elders should be encouraged to do their estate planning while they are competent so they can select who will be managing their finances when they ae no longer able to do so.

3. Reverse mortgages

Reverse mortgages are advertised on radio and television as being a way for the elder to stay in their home, obtain cash they can use now, and not have to pay the money back until the surviving spouse dies or permanently leaves the house. Many children assisting their parents with their finances see this as a way to access the equity in the elder’s house now while the elders are still alive and not having to wait until they both die.

Here again, the problem arises when the child who has access to the funds from the reverse mortgage begin to access the funds for their own benefit – vacations, new cars, monthly expenses, the list is almost endless.

What you Can Do To Help An Elder Person in a Financial Abuse Situation ?

If you have some doubts that one of the situations described above is currently happening to one of your loved ones, do not wait until it is to late i.e. until the child helping the elder(s) has essentially helped him or herself to a large part of the elder(s) funds and has no way to repay the money. The best way to deal with elders financial abuse is to report it as quickly as possible. The sooner the situation is brought to the attention of the County the sooner steps can be taken to protect an elder from abuse.

Many times the situation is referred to the police department or district attorney’s office for criminal prosecution of the child. However, this will not help the elder(s) recover the money that the child has taken and spent. This also usually comes to the attention of Adult Protective Services when another child becomes concerned that a parent doesn’t have enough money to go to the adult day care program, or pay for in home services. The child in control of the funds telling the rest of the family that the elder(s) cannot afford these luxuries because they have no money available.

Many times at this point the case is referred to mediation. In mediation the child in control of the elder’s funds can agree to step down and allow another family member or an independent fiduciary to handle the elder’s funds. If visiting with the elder has become a problem, a regular visitation schedule can be discussed and agreed upon.

If criminal charges are pending against the child in control, the child can be encouraged to return the funds to the elder’s account. However, because criminal charges are filed by the State against an individual, the parties cannot agree that the charges will be dropped.


Financial elders abuse is a growing problem in our society. The dramatic increase in elders’ homes along with elders living longer and losing mental capacity can present a situation where elder abuse can easily occur.

The best way to deal with elder financial abuse is to report it as quickly as possible. The sooner the situation is brought to the attention of the County the sooner steps can be taken to protect an elder from further abuse.