Unconscionable Crime: Stealing from a family member with dementia.

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Are there worse crimes?  Of course.  Sexual and physical abuse come to mind.  But in this article the focus is financial exploitation.

English: Seattle Post-Intelligencer logo
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here’s a headline, ripped from an August 26, 2012 Seattle Post Intelligencer (PI) article: “Son, wife fleeced dementia-stricken mom.”  Here’s the good news – the son, Ivan Ljunghammar, and his wife, Deborah Jean, have been charged with felony first-degree theft.   Here’s the bad news – this pair allegedly stole close to $513,000 dollars from Ivan’s 82-year old mother, facilitated by him being awarded control over his mother’s finances in 2007.

The victim and her husband (deceased) were very careful throughout their lives to make sure they had sufficient funds for when they truly would need them.  They did an amazing job and as it turned out, those funds were needed.  I guess her son and daughter-in-law figured they needed the money more.  Added to that atrocity, the daughter-in-law knowingly hired a convicted felon to care for her mother-in-law.  Who does that?  The morally corrupt – that’s who.  But I digress.

A desire for the parents’ estate compromises morality.

Although it’s true that strangers rob from vulnerable adults, family members do it more often than you can – or would care to – know.  It’s the vulnerable adult with dementia who is most often targeted by strangers and family alike, and the family members who “legally” have access to mom and dad’s funds are the most hideous criminals.  This family member becomes the Power of Attorney over finances and/or care needs for their mom and then abuse that “Power” by assuring mom that all is well and that she need not worry herself, all the while moving money away from mom’s accounts into their own.

Some financial exploitation is more subtle.

Moving mom or dad out of their current assisted living facility, in which the parents initially had carefully chosen to live, to a facility that is less expensive so that more money remains after mom and dad die.  Holding back the daily care a compromised adult may need.  Providing a bare minimum of personal belongings and clothing for their loved one – again, for the same reason.  Do I sound harsh and judgmental?  Gosh, I hope so.  My work with the older population for the past 12 years has created a jaded view of how some family members respond to the needs of their parents.  Thank goodness the percentage of good and loving family is greater than that of the bad and corrupt – but that does little towards softening the effects of a vulnerable adult’s emptied bank account when they need it most.

It’s unfortunate that media headlines are the primary thing that exposes elder fraud.

I know I personally don’t write about elder fraud enough in this Blog.  My article, Financial fraud against the elderly: it’s a family affair, does draw attention to some of the examples I’ve addressed in this Blog entry, and I guess the more sensational occurrences of elder fraud will make this crime more visible.  But I think the bottom line is that I want the impossible.  I want our elders to be respected, not exploited, and I really want family members to grow a conscience.

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4 thoughts on “Unconscionable Crime: Stealing from a family member with dementia.

    Welcome to the year 2015! | Baby Boomers and More said:
    January 23, 2015 at 1:23 pm

    […] Unconscionable crime: stealing from a family member with dementia, posted August 2012 […]

    Robin said:
    November 5, 2012 at 5:12 pm

    The long response above is exactly what I am afraid of, concerning my mother. Even though my mother is very independent at 75, she was defrauded out of a significant chunk of change from an investment scheme. She hid the crime for a while, for fear of being seen as incompetent. I want to help protect her from falling prey to these kinds of schemes, but also allowing her to maintain her autonomy.

    I really like the ombudsmen suggestion, but I’m looking for prevention to fight this crime, rather than after the fact. The truth is, these criminals are masters at what they do and have worked out several ways to wiggle around the laws. Besides reviewing her finances every few months (which my mother would not allow), what other “checks and balance” system can she put in place?

    Thank you,
    -r2

    Anonymous said:
    September 4, 2012 at 9:13 am

    Wow! I just witnessed almost the exact same thing. A nearly 90 yr old with beginnings of dementia, real and liquid assets of $500K + $16K per year income all virtually wiped out in less than two years by their guardian. Of course there were differences. The guardian was court appointed and who received full guardianship over the recommendations of the court appointed guardian ad litem. The family member who had left their home, put it on the rental market and moved in the the parent’s home to take care of them 24/7 (unpaid) was removed by the guardian under legal threat and replaced by the guardian’s employees at $18K per month. In less than a year, the guardian was in court asking for the home to be sold. In less than two years, the “client” had been moved out of town to an adult family home owned by one of the guardian’s caregivers, the home sold for less than 1/2 the appraised value (to whom?) and the guardian tried to sell the car to a caregiver for less than half the market value. Unable to sell the RV before the new home owner took posession, the guardian paid $950 to have it towed out and ???. The family HAD requested the guardian be removed but the court, although saying “the case has been mishandled from the beginning” and the judge was” inclined to send the case for full judicial review”, did virtually nothing. The first request resulted in the judge denying the raised bond and directing the guardian to find less expensive caregiver alternatives. The guardian hired the son of one of the existing caregivers, a caregiver the family had been requested be removed for abuse and medical mismanagement. The second try resulted in the guardian’s lawyer withdrawing the hearing date so the judge couldn’t officially review the complaint and the lawyer and guardian had a 30 minute “strategy session, as it was billed, where the client was to be moved out of her home within a month and the home sold. Retaliation? At the hearing only one week after the client was moved, the judge strongly rebuked the lawyer and guardian and did not grant them the additional requested bond. By the time the family members had gotten home from court that evening, Friday, there was already an e-mail message waiting saying the client would be taken from the home on Sunday, abandoned in the emergency room of the local hospital for non payment of for the AFH which the guardian had placed her in only one week earlier. The guardian did say in a taunting note, of course you can take her home. However, the guardian had changed all the locks, had the utilities cut off for non payment, refused to let anyone assist in the care unless she personally approved them and said she would be checking at any time of the day or night by phone and if that wasn’t answered, she would report the family to the police for negligence. Then she added tauntingly . “See you Monday”. The family and myself went to the AFH and personally pleaded with them and pledged our personal funds to not have the client thrown out. It would have been a death shock to someone who had been pulled from the home they had personally built over 50 years earlier to “the home” and now have to leave again! As before, as before,by the time the family got home there was an e-mail. The AFH allegiance was to the guardian, not to the client, and the guardian said she would never agree to any plan or agreement she had not personally set up and if the family happened to get enough money together to take her to court, too bad, there wasn’t enough money to do anything. In the end, the court told the guardian they had “overstepped their bounds” by spending so much when less expensive alternatives were available” but granted them the right to continue bilking the client of every last penny. The ignominy of all this was that the client had to pay the legal expenses to protect the person taking advantage of them. The hearing where the judge “reviewed” the excess spending cost $200/hr for the lawyer, $90/hr for the guardian/ $200/hr for the guardian ad litem plus court cost and all the $200,$90 sessions of preparation between the lawyer and guardian … all paid for by the client. The result is that the $8900 legal bill the first court thought was exorbitant ballooned to over $17,000 in a new court where the client had been moved. The client should be penniless soon and the guardian will dump her onto Medicaid and us taxpayers and move on to the next victim … all court approved. I guess that the moral is that over 80% of elderly, in need people are taken care of by family, most lovingly and with respect. We need to recognize this and assist them while still monitoring them through reporting and review to thwart those few who do take advantage. Just automatically assuming that those 80% are bad people costs the elderly, their families and, ultimately the taxpayers too much. A for profit guardian always has the opening for looking out more for their “business” than their client. Also, we need to have an ombudsman system where conflicts can be resolved outside overburdened courts and without the $400, $500 + per hour price tag draining yet more resources from the elderly. This is an issue that will only get worse as more of us become “the elderly”. As it is now, I can only hope I die before the courts and paid guardians step in. My family can do nothing to me that would make paid guardians preferable to them.

      boomer98053 said:
      September 4, 2012 at 10:59 am

      That is a very long response but one that was certainly worth reading based on the experiences you outline. At the end you indicated that “we need an ombudsman system where conflicts can be resolved outside overburdened courts…” If you are based in the United States, I know that each state has, and is required to have, a long-term care (LTC) ombudsman program. For one located in your state – again, assuming you are in the United States, go to the following website:
      http://www.ltcombudsman.org. LTC ombudsmen are advocates for vulnerable adults in long-term care facilities, including adult family homes (AFH) as mentioned in your comment.

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