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What a Senator’s probate litigation reveals about elder abuse

On Behalf of | Oct 2, 2023 | Financial Abuse |

Older adults often depend on their close family members, spouses and/or prior planning efforts for practical and financial support as they age. The physical and mental health challenges that often accompany advanced age can leave someone unable to work to financially support themselves or manage their own resources effectively.

Those who have enjoyed a higher standard of living throughout life, in particular, often go to great lengths to draft elder law and estate planning documents to better protect them when they are most vulnerable. Careful estate planning can go a long way toward reducing the likelihood of elder abuse later in life. Unfortunately, as the high-profile probate litigation concerning the estate of (now deceased) Senator Diane Feinstein’s deceased husband shows, even those with significant resources are vulnerable to abuse.

What are the allegations in this unusual case?

There were careful estate plans already on record to protect the Senator and carefully distribute the resources of her spouse. Her now-deceased spouse created a trust and included many very specific, protective provisions to ensure that the senator would have the resources she required for comfort and stability in her golden years.

Unfortunately, the lawsuit recently brought in probate court alleges that the trustees who should abide by the instructions provided by the testator have instead deviated from those written instructions in a very significant manner that may constitute elder abuse. The allegations include claims that the estate failed to make necessary contributions to the marital trust that would support the Senator. Instead, those funds that the testator allocated for the support of his wife went to his daughters from a prior marriage.

There are also allegations that the trust has conducted inappropriate transfers of marital assets owned by both the Senator and her deceased spouse. There are even allegations that trustees have released the children of the deceased from their financial obligations to the trust, which could constitute a breach of their fiduciary duty to the beneficiaries of the trust. These moves are despite the $22 million each of those children would directly inherit after the passing of their father.

It remains to be seen how the courts will resolve the matter, but possible solutions could include the removal of the trustees who have mismanaged resources and even a requirement for them or the children who received property that they should not have to repay the trust.

Financial abuse does not always receive as much attention as more obvious types of abuse, like physical abuse, but it can still cause great harm to someone in their golden years. Fighting back against financial elder abuse is often a lengthy process but can both reimburse the person harmed by the abuse and create consequences for those engaging in elder abuse.

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