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Caregiver charged with financial abuse of elderly man

Officials say that financial exploitation of the elderly is on the rise in Minnesota and around the country. These crimes can have a terrible impact on vulnerable adults, and on the inheritances they want to leave to younger generations. In many cases, the perpetrators use undue influence to gain control of the victim's assets.

Police recently arrested a nursing assistant, her husband and her sister and charged them with stealing $350,000 from a 94-year-old man whom they were supposed to be helping. The man was diagnosed with dementia in 2007 and hired the nursing assistant to care for him at his home. She eventually hired her sister, her husband and her daughter to work for the man as well, providing him with 24-hour care.

Because of the man's illness, the woman took over the man's finances, getting an attorney to draft power of attorney documents. However, police said she soon began using this power to enrich herself and her family. Police said she spent more than $250,000 of the man's money, getting her home renovated, giving herself loans that were never repaid and purchasing expensive items such as a new Mercedes-Benz. She also changed the man's estate planning documents to give herself control over the man's estate and to make her husband the executor of the man's estate.

Elderly people, and especially elderly people with dementia, are vulnerable to unscrupulous scam artists who will take advantage of their loneliness and declining mental capacity to enrich themselves. It is all too common for crooks to ingratiate themselves with an elderly person in order to get them to change a will or other estate plan to benefit themselves.

Under Minnesota law, a will is not valid if the person writing it lacked the mental capacity to make a will. Family members or others challenging a will may also argue that someone had an undue influence upon the person writing the will.

This kind of court challenge is not easy. The best way to fight financial abuse of the elderly is to make sure it does not happen in the first place. But when it is too late for that, it is important for Minnesotans to understand their rights and to respect their deceased loved ones' true wishes for their estates - the wishes they had before a scam artist tried to subvert them.

Source: CBS Chicago, "Caregiver, Husband, Sister Charged With Bilking Dementia Patient Out of $350K," April 5, 2013

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