Financial Exploitation of an Elder May Have Negative Consequences if the Elder Later Applies for Medicaid Benefits

I recently litigated two different cases in the Superior Court, Union County, each involving the financial exploitation of the elderly. In one case, a non-relative “friend” took a frail, elderly widow into her home as a tenant. The elderly widow had no family in NJ. The friend acted as caregiver for the elder, and the elder eventually appointed the caregiver as the elder’s agent under a power of attorney. The caregiver provided the elder with personal care needs, and handled all of the elder’s financial affairs. Unfortunately, the caregiver was also financially exploiting the elder: over the course of about 11 months, the caregiver stole about $166,000 from the elder. Ultimately, the elder was removed from the caregiver’s home by Union County Adult Protective Services and placed in a local nursing home. The caregiver was indicted, convicted and eventually sentenced to serve 7 years in prison. The story can be found at: Thieving caretaker sentenced to 7 years – Breaking News From New Jersey – I represented the elder in a civil action against the caregiver. We were able to obtain a civil judgment of $166,000 against the caregiver based upon the criminal conviction. The elder, who is still residing in a nursing home, has been unable to recover any of the amount awarded against the caregiver.

In another case, I was appointed by the court as counsel, and later as guardian ad litem, for an elderly woman who had been sued by the nursing home in which she was residing. The woman had lived with her adult daughter in the mother’s home in Elizabeth before the daughter admitted her mother into the local nursing home. The nursing home sued the mother and the daughter after providing care for the mother for several years without receiving payment. As we alleged in our counterclaim against the daughter, after admitting her mother to the nursing home, the daughter improperly used a power of attorney to mortgage her mother’s home and withdraw most of the equity value of the home, and then gave the proceeds to herself and/or family members. We also alleged in the counterclaim that the daughter used her mother’s monthly Social Security and pension checks to pay her own personal bills. After a trial, the court entered judgment against the daughter for $228,000, the full amount of the debt owed by the mother to the nursing home.

In both cases, I was involved in filing Medicaid applications for the victims of the financial exploitation, with two quite different results. In the first case involving the non-relative caregiver, Medicaid approved the application. In the second case, Medicaid denied the application based upon the failure to provide information about the disposition of the stolen funds. However, in neither case was I able to provide any information about what happened to the stolen assets. The difference in result got me interested in exploring the effect of financial exploitation on Medicaid eligibility. I wrote an article on the topic, which was published in the Estate and Elder Law Special Supplement to the April 28, 2008 edition of the New Jersey Lawyer newspaper. The article can be found at: New Jersey Lawyer Online – In Re Magazine.