A local professional guardian, Jane E. Vatelot, who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida, was arrested yesterday for stealing more than $125,000 from the living trust of a 94 year old man. The reports say that the victim gave her is power of attorney but that the victim lacked consent at the time. Next, Vatelot appeared to access the victim's living trust to obtain funds for own, personal expenses. Bay News 9's St. Pete detectives: Suspect stole $126k from 94-year-old man contains the full story.
In 2014 the Florida legislature gave an excellent update to the Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation of Elderly Persons and Disabled Adults statute. The Florida legislature and a concerned group of attorneys, prosecutors and other advocates worked for years to make changes to this statute. The statutory changes include:
- Deleting a requirement that the property of an elderly person or disabled adult be obtained by deception or intimidation in order to constitute exploitation.
- A “presumption of exploitation” when a predator takes advantage of an elderly or disabled victim in certain circumstances.
- Creating criminal penalties for those who exploit through joint accounts that were intended for convenience.
- Decreasing the property threshold values for exploitation down. If, for instance, the property taken was less than $10,000, it is still a third degree felony.
Financial abuse of the elderly is correlated with the elder’s isolation and the abuser is often someone in a position of trust, like a neighbor, a health care worker or a distant relative. They can come in to try to “help” the victim when the victim is already showing signs of mental deterioration and is more likely than not able to fully understand their decisions. Some of the warning signs of abuse are:
- A neighbor, caregiver, friend or relative is trying to isolate the elder from other people and family members.
- Large cash withdrawals or transfers between bank accounts.
- Checks made payable to "cash" or cash withdrawals on deposit slips.
- Signatures on checks and documents that do not look like the elderly person's handwriting.
- Excessive "reimbursements" to caregivers.
- Extravagant purchases (e.g. cars) for caregivers - sometimes the exploiter will facilitate the purchase for a caregiver in order to curry favor or buy silence.
- Giving abuser charging privileges on credit card.
- Unexplained change of estate planning attorney.
If you or someone you know has been a victim of elder abuse, please do not hesitate to contact your local authorities. Our Seminole law office can also assist your incapacity planning, estate planning and elder exploitation matters.