Lack of Documents Facilitates Elder Abuse

Older Woman w dog smallerI wish I made up most of what I write about, but unfortunately, I do not. Recently, an elderly woman came into my office because her daughter had threatened to evict her from the home the woman occupied. As I interviewed her I found that 8 years ago this woman and her daughter had entered into an agreement whereby the daughter would purchase a home for mother, and mother would make the house payments. The two never captured their agreement in any form of writing, which for the transfer and sale of real estate is required by writing under Colorado law.

Mom occupied the home, built a fence, put in new carpeting, made the house payments and generally treated the home as her own. Over time mom and daughter had a falling out, and daughter ordered mother out of the home and actually served her with eviction papers. As I indicated earlier, there was no written agreement between the parties, so the only claims mom could make against her daughter were ones of unjust enrichment and a constructive trust. Colorado recognizes both types of claims, but they are hard to prove.

As I investigated mom’s claim I found that while I believed her story I thought it would legally be hard to prove. I advised her to settle with her daughter and agree to move out of the home. Morally, I thought the daughter was wrong, but moral values are not what are on trial in a hearing. Mom wanted to move forward anyway, so we had a bench trial, meaning that the case was heard by a judge alone, and unfortunately, my client lost. I cannot say that I was surprised, but I was upset, as was my client.

Along with others I helped her pack a moving truck the following weekend. As I did so all I could think was how all of this could have been avoided by a few key documents. And in fact that was what the judge based her ruling on which was that the chief documents in the case indicated the daughter alone owned the home. We all want to trust family members, but blood relations are often just as murky as those between non-relatives.

Elder abuse is real, and it happens across all social and economic strata. Elder abuse can take many forms but often it manifests itself in a trusted person exercising undue influence over an elderly person leading the elderly person to change their will or give money to the supposed trusted person. It can also take the form of physical or emotional abuse or property theft or a situation in which the elderly person is prevented from communicating with others. We all have a role in preventing it, so if you are concerned that an elderly person is being taken advantage of call Human Services or law enforcement or an attorney. If acted on earlier much of the damage such abuse can cause can be avoided.  Contact us if we can help.

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