Steps Conservators Should Take After Being Falsely Accused
If you serve as a conservator for a loved one, you always have their best interests at heart. Whether it is monitoring their day-to-day health or managing their finances, you have a court-honored duty to manage their estate and well-being as best you can.
Unfortunately, other family members or even close friends of the loved one can sometimes grow envious of your role as a conservator. The position can be time-consuming and strenuous, but the loved one you are taking care of might offer you gifts or feature you prominently in their will or trust. News of these arrangements can fuel family grudges and vendettas, especially if other members of the family are estranged or a great deal of assets are at stake. This can lead to the surprisingly and depressingly common scenario where you are falsely accused of elder abuse.
Facing such an accusation can be bewildering and even enraging, especially if you have done everything in your power to honor the conservatorship and care for your loved one. Luckily, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and clear your name. Below, we cover what you should do if accused of elder abuse.
In order for someone to file an accusation, either some physical or financial problem will need to have occurred. The best means of avoiding an accusation, then, is to do everything you can to prevent either type of problem from developing.
One preventative step is to make sure your loved one has all of the tools and mechanisms they need to remain mobile. Ensure they have a functioning wheelchair or sturdy cane if they need assistance with mobility, for example. Consider checking their living spaces to identify potential problem areas, like deteriorating railings or uneven steps, and contemplate repairs, if necessary. Your goal is to not only protect your loved one but to also demonstrate the level of care you put into keeping them physically safe. Proactive measures of this sort can be helpful in building a defense should a problem later occur.
Another preventative step is to make sure your loved one understands the reality of scammers, especially if they live on an affluent property or are known to have a great deal of wealth. Many types of in-person, online, and over-the-phone scammers may attempt to swindle money out of your unsuspecting loved one. Not only is falling prey to a scammer potentially disastrous for them, you could also be blamed for failing to protect them.
Warn your loved one about all types of scams, including:
- Door-to-door solicitation
- Medicare fraud
- Funeral or cemetery fraud
- Credit card scams
- Email scams
- Living trust mills
- Direct, in-person scams
How Elder Law Abuse Is Proven
In a genuine case of elder abuse, the accuser will have to not only prove that some form of problem has developed and that the the conservator deliberately intended to carry out the abuse. In a false accusation, this is your best defense.
For example, consider a situation where you are authorized to manage the financial affairs as part of your conservatorship. You withdraw some funds to make what appears to be a strong investment, which ultimately does not work out as you hoped. Another family member, looking for any reason to strike, uses the opportunity of accusing you of financial elder abuse. In this instance, so long as you were able to prove you were attempting to act in the loved one’s best interest – by growing their estate through what seemed to be a smart investment – you likely will not be convicted. Your accuser would have to establish that you were historically terrible with money, thus making your investment negligent in some way, or prove you knew in advance the investment would fail.
There are several common types of elder abuse you could be falsely accused of, including:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Financial abuse
For accusations of physical elder abuse, the individual must be physically harmed in one way, and it must be suspected that you directly caused the injury. Similarly, neglect or endangerment cases could be brought if it is suspected that your inattention or lack of care led to the elder injuring themselves. Keep in mind that the injuries need not be severe to trigger an accusation: Something as simple as bruises can be enough for an overzealous family member to attempt a case.
Emotional abuse can be more nebulous, which can make it easier to accuse someone but also trickier to prove. This category tends to involve instances where a conservator routinely ridicules or humiliates the loved one or attempts to isolate them from others, often with the goal of extracting money or other assets.Testimony of the elder in question is often paramount in establishing or disproving emotional abuse.
Financial abuse involves any attempt to defraud the elderly loved one or willfully mismanage their funds to instead enrich yourself. As a conservator, you often have partial or complete control over the loved one’s financial decision making, and any move that can be perceived to be less than perfect can trigger false accusations.
Once you discover you are being accused, make every effort to document the circumstances surrounding the incident to the best of your recollection. In financial cases, expect an audit of your transactions, so get those documents ready for inspection along with explanations for why you made the choices you did. For accusations involving neglect, make a log of any proactive repairs or steps you took to protect the health of your loved one. It is a good idea to also gather contact information for any witnesses that might be able to attest to your care.
Regardless of the type of elder abuse alleged, the accuser will have to establish that you willfully intended to abuse the loved one. In a false accusation scenario, you might think this automatically absolves you – after all, you had no intention of carrying out any abuse – but your actions could be misrepresented in court to paint a picture inconsistent with reality.
That is why you need the services of a qualified attorney to defend you from the false elder abuse accusation. Otherwise, you risk the legal representation of the accuser outmaneuvering your ability to defend yourself in court and could face serious penalties if convicted, regardless of any actual guilt.
A misdemeanor elder abuse conviction can land you a $6,000 fine, up to a year of prison time, informal probation, and restitution. A felony elder abuse conviction gets you up to 4 years in prison, up to a $10,000 fine, restitution, and formal probation.
Hiring experienced criminal defense attorneys, like the ones that make up our team at Lessem, Newstat & Tooson, LLP, can help you avoid these consequences. We have over 50 years of combined legal experience and can help California clients fight false elder abuse accusations. We will do everything in our power to clear your name.
Schedule a consultation to see how we can help by calling (800) 462-7160 or contacting us online.