Fight On, Sun-Sentinel
The Sun-Sentinel deserves applause for its recent series on abuse of the elderly in and out of nursing homes by care givers who have criminal backgrounds. The paper should follow up with a report on another form of elder abuse, not by people called felons, but people called blood relatives. It may be just as common and involve considerably more money.
We hear at least one reporter is already working on one of the more sensational cases. The story of the former Broward County judge who befriended a feeble 80-something and wound up with much of her money, either for himself or his relatives. In this case there is even one of her relatives who is accused in court papers of aiding the judge, and accepting “hush money” in the process. It is about to get bigger. Maybe much bigger in terms of the money involved. Attorney William Scherer is representing the elderly woman and he plays hardball.
The case, if the facts are as alleged, appears to be one of the more outrageous of its class, but it is hardly isolated in South Florida. With so many wealthy old people on the border of dementia, with the strange combination of generosity and paranoia so often present, these very senior souls are natural targets. And unscrupulous relatives are natural predators.
But it goes on everywhere. We recently took a long vacation, making four stops to see old friends in the northeast. In three of the four visits our friends had horror stories about elderly relatives who were ripped off by their own family members, sometimes to the detriment of those in their wills – or who should have been in wills. Wills can be changed, and sometimes changed without elderly people understanding the impact of their actions. You only hear about it in celebrity cases, such as Anthony Marshall, just convicted of having Brooke Astor’s (she died at 105) will changed. But in less publicized cases, would-be heirs constantly have expensive and exhausting legal battles just trying to do what is right. In some cases financial institutions are incredibly negligent, failing to notice obvious red flags in the accounts of some of their longstanding clients.
Old people are suckers for schmooze. They can grow hostile to those actually taking care of them, terrified of being put in "the home," and at the same time they can be influenced by others far away, who ply them with long distance love and occasional sob stories, always with creamy toppings of nostalgia for the good old days when they were young and healthy. It is a serious problem, and while the subject is hot maybe the mainstream media can help contain it.