Dr. Val Farmer
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

Readers Share Stories About Elder Abuse

January 7, 2008

I received several letters and e-mails about elder abuse, particularly when it comes to manipulation of financial assets with farm estates.

Letter one. Coddled son. A coddled and favored son moved back home with his widowed mother. He got her to change the will disinheriting two daughters and hurting another daughter and son. He farms with low cash rent and spends his free time at the tavern. He is bitter and hateful. The mother appears to be afraid of him and also lacks confidence to make her own decisions.

The coddled son has changed attorneys three times to find one that would collaborate in his legal schemes. The rest of the family is fighting back legally but, in effect, are "spending" their inheritance as attorneys on both sides who drag it out and make more money.

The reader shares his impressions of the process. Our legal system is skewed in such a way that as much as the law and the policies are on our side, we will get nowhere until we hire another high priced attorney and litigate the whole estate away. We have been involved with a couple of different attorneys and they start the old letter writing and phone calls and postponements and we ended up spending thousands and getting nothing but hard feelings.

The state statues say one thing, but try to get anyone in law enforcement to enforce them. They all tell us it is a civil matter. Because there is no "remedy" spelled out under the law they say they can’t enforce the statutes.

Attempts to bring the matter to the licencing board governing attorney malfeasance go nowhere. Mother’s land continues to shrink and her monthly income is being used by freeloaders in the family.

The courts don’t seem to want to rule in favor of someone as an individual over a licensed attorney. But a lot of what goes on in court is procedural and has nothing to do with the law so no matter how much you have the law and statutes on your side, if you ask the questions or present evidence in the wrong order, you will lose and sometimes lose your future chances of legal remedy. Anyway we can’t afford to fight this anymore.

Second letter. Unscrupulous professionals. Elderly people with land in Wyoming need not worry about being lonely in their retirement days. There will be plenty of bible toting cowboy realtors who will come visit to gain their trust for financial gain. There are lots of gold diggers in the world. Some may be family members. But if I see a realtor wearing a cowboy hat or one carrying a bible or both, I am going to grab my — and run like hell.

Third letter. Mother being isolated. Family visits by out of state siblings are being discouraged by a son and daughter who live locally. There is concern that mother is becoming forgetful and is being ripped off by the son. It appears that "very expensive" improvements to the farming operation and personal bills are being paid at mother’s expense. The out-of-state family members are excluded from health care decisions or discussions. The local children talk of getting power of attorney and restricting visits from other family members.

Fourth letter: Caregivers are the abusers. A sister and her boyfriend moved mother to a nursing home near them against her stated wishes. They have systematically removed professionals from her life and replaced them with individuals they selected.

By using tactics of intimidation, manipulation, threats, lies, planting seeds of mistrust and fear of family members and friends, mother willingly agreed to conservator/guardian sole legal authority over physical, personal and financial aspects of mother’s life.

Armed with conservator/guardianship authority, the sister has barred other family members from seeing or talking to mother. All visits have stipulated rules and are supervised visits. The quality of care of the nursing home is intimidating and mother has learned to cope as one would expect from an abuse victim trying to survive.

The excluded daughter writes, There is a gap between existing laws/codes and a lack of public knowledge/education which allows abuse to continue.

Many issues can affect the (elderly’s) cognitive ability to make decisions or give consent. The decline in decisional capacity may be just on this side of the line in terms of legal competency, yet it is in this gray area that many abusive situations begin.

Forced isolation from other family members is abusive. Not sharing information is abusive. Using the legal status of guardianship or conservatorship as weapons in control of the elderly against others is abusive. The abuser is not a slick salesman or unscrupulous investment advisor, but usually a relative, friend or caregiver in whom the elderly person has placed trust and confidence.

She also has some unkind words to say about attorneys who feather their nest by agreeing to changes in wills, health care, conflicts of interest, delaying proceedings, and concocting false claims or countercharges. She has spent over $25,000 thus far trying to get power of attorney for health care decisions to give her mother the kind of care she wanted.