My grandma's neighbors are taking advantage of her financially, what can we do to stop them?

Amyjean80 asked...

In 2002 my grandmother was diagnosed with dimentia. The diagnosis came about after she attempted to jump over board while on a cruise. She had been living in California at the time and though no other family lived there she insisted on staying in that state so we made arraingments for her to move into an assisted living home. While living in this home, sometime in 2006 she was befriended by her next door neighbors and even though before she got sick was very open with us about financial matters, apparently she decided to sign a living trust that was written up by the people living next door to her, in it she stated that upon her death they would recieve 80% of what ever money she has and they other 20% could be devided up between my mother and her five siblings. At the time when they got her to sign this living trust she was so far gone she couldnt even feed herself, and had no memory of who she was or any of her family members. Before this my uncle, which was my grandmothers only son had been given full power of attorney over my grandmothers estate so we were shocked after her passing when these people contacted us and told us my grandmother had passed away nearly a month and a half earlier and this couple had sold all of her possesions of value, and thrown out anything that wasnt of value including all family photographs!! Once all was said and done this couple inherited over $600,000.00 of my grandmothers money. Also I want to add that between 2006 and 2010, when in October she passed, we would attemt to call her multiple times a month and these people were having her phone calls forwarded to their residence and not one time allowed us to speak to her. When we finally realized what they were doing to keep us from communicating with her we called the police, they went to my grandmothers home and she told them she had no knowledge of ever having any children and we must be someone trying to scam her. My question is IS THIS LEGAL??? CAN THEY ACTUALLY GET AWAY WITH TALKING SOMEONE WITH ADVANCED DIMENTIA INTO SIGNING OVER THEIR LIFE SAVINGS???

Expert Answer

Judy and Fred co-mediate family property and financial conflicts, and each work individually as mediators as well. Judy Barber, a mediator and family business consultant, assists clients in resolving overlapping family and money conflicts so they are better able to make sound estate planning decisions. Frederick Hertz is an attorney and mediator who specializes in resolving co-ownership matters involving families, siblings, spouses, cohabitants and domestic partners.

There are many definitions and standards of financial elder abuse and undue influence, and if what you are saying is true what happened here clearly would be considered improper. It's important for you to realize that there isn't a list of specific actions that are unlawful; rather, there are general rules and principles that are applied to the specific situation. Of course, you need to be aware that the folks you are accusing of wrongdoing will have their own side of the story, which probably will differ from yours!

You said that your mother passed away in October 2010, so there probably is still time for you to challenge the trust document that gave so much to her neighbors. You will want to find a lawyer in your hometown who has filed such cases before, as they are not simple to pursue. The lawyer will need to find the neighbors, and because they got the assets through a trust there probably isn't a probate proceeding happening in court, so she or he will have to file a lawsuit to protect your claim. Then, there will be questioning of the neighbors and perhaps an investigation of what the nursing home staff have to say about your mom's condition. Eventually, if the matter is not settled there will be a trial in the local court, with a judge ruling on your allegations.

Pursuing a case like this isn't cheap, but some lawyers will take the case on contingency, where they are entitled to a percentage of the recovery in lieu of an hourly fee (and receive no pay if you are not successful in your claim). You also might be able to file a complaint with the local Adult Protective Services, but it's unlikely they will be able to do anything unless they conclude that some sort of criminal wrongdoing was committed. Remember, the criminal legal standards are much tougher than the civil standards, so violating a civil law does not necessary mean a criminal act was committed.

One last point for you to think about. Most likely the neighbors will justify what they did by blaming you for not taking better care of your grandmother. They will say that she cared more about them because they took better care of her "“ and so you and your family will have to endure some pretty tough accusations. We're not saying you shouldn't pursue your claim because of this problem "“ we just want to be sure you are cognizant of this possibility before heading down this difficult road.