What to Do When a Relative Takes Money from an Elder Person in Georgia

Nursing home lawyers

Theft is a crime, but when it occurs within a family, it often goes unreported. When the theft involves an elderly victim, the theft may also go unnoticed. A relative or friend who suspects that a senior’s money or property is being taken without permission can ask a lawyer for help.

Elder Theft by Relatives in Georgia

Seniors are at greater risk of becoming the victims of theft than younger people. Seniors often give their children, grandchildren, and other relatives access to their financial accounts. Relatives may ask for access under the guise of helping an older family member manage their finances.

For example, a relative might be granted a Power of Attorney that allows the relative to manage investments or pay the elder’s bills. When the relative experiences financial stress, the relative may be tempted to “borrow” the elder’s money in order to pay the relative’s own bills. Borrowing without permission is a form of theft.

It is even easier for relatives to steal from elders who suffer from dementia. A forgetful senior might not remember to watch for Social Security checks and might not know about the benefits of direct deposit. Any family member with access to the senior’s mail is in a position to steal the check and to forge the senior’s name.

Relatives also engage in deception or bullying to persuade elders to sign over property to their relatives. A relative might sell the house in which a senior is living, leaving the victim homeless and destitute.

Helping Elderly Victims of Theft by Relatives in Georgia

Several warning signs might alert friends and family members to the potential theft of property from seniors. They include:

  • A senior no longer wears or talks about heirlooms, jewelry, and other valuables that were once a source of pleasure
  • A senior’s bank account is suddenly overdrawn or has only a small balance
  • The senior’s bills are not being paid
  • The senior’s credit card bills show unusual charges 
  • The signature on the senior’s checks does not match the senior’s writing
  • Sudden changes in a Will or other financial documents

If one relative has been tasked with helping senior manage finances, another relative should keep an eye on how the money is being managed. While family members should not be encouraged to distrust each other, they should be proactive about investigating unusual activity concerning a senior’s finances or property. 

Legal Remedies for Elderly Victims of Theft by Georgia Relatives

Section 16-5-102(a) of the Georgia Code makes it a felony to exploit an elder. “Exploit” is defined as using an elder person’s resources “through undue influence, coercion, harassment, duress, deception, false representation, false pretense, or other similar means for one’s own or another person’s profit or advantage.”

In addition to reporting the crime of financial exploitation of an elder, a victimized elder can pursue civil remedies. Victims can start a civil lawsuit even if the government does not prosecute the relative for financial exploitation.

Under some circumstances, punitive damages may also be available to punish the relative who exploited the elder family member. The statute that authorizes punitive damages may require submission of a timely notice of claim. Victims should seek legal advice immediately after discovering the theft to assure that their rights are protected.

When the elder victim is not competent to initiate a lawsuit, family members can seek the appointment of a guardian who can authorize the commencement of legal action for the elder’s benefit. Nursing home lawyers who represent elderly victims of financial abuse can provide more information about the steps a victim may need to take to begin a civil action.