The Elder Alone, The Evil Caregivers And The Perfect Crime

This is a true story about what we sometimes refer to as an “elder orphan”. These folks have no children, they are single, and they can be very vulnerable to the worst abuse.

Ralph, in his late 80s had a home in an expensive part of CA. As he grew more frail with age, and needed help, he moved to an established senior care community. While there, two of the caregivers, a married couple, got to know him. His house remained vacant, as he did not have the ability to rent it out. He had cognitive impairment and did not keep track of his finances. At one point, he did have a lawyer draw up a trust for him, and the house was in that trust. No one knew who the “successor trustee” was, the person he had appointed to step in when he was no longer able to manage his finances. The caregiver couple was aware that he had a home and was not able to pay attention to it. Apparently, they saw that as a fine opportunity to get control over Ralph and ownership of the home. They were clever. They waited until they were sure he would not complain and they told him he could go home again and they would take care of him there.

They quit their jobs at the senior residence, and took Ralph back to his home. He died under mysterious circumstances a week later. The female former caregiver had gotten Ralph to sign legal documents, giving her complete authority. First, she used an online legal document service and obtained a Certification of Trust. She appointed herself as the new trustee. Next, she got Ralph to sign a Quitclaim Deed she got online and gave herself title to the house. Given Ralph’s cognitive decline, she could have simply fooled him into doing it, knowing he would not understand, or she could have threatened and coerced him into signing it. After all, no one was watching. No one but the caregiver couple knew what they were doing. She then posed as Ralph’s niece, using the Power of Attorney for finances to put the house on the market. It sold for a generous sum and she and her husband moved to another state. There was probably an original trust in which the house was held. While the evil couple were in the home they could easily have destroyed the trust along with any other estate planning documents.

All of this was reported by a neighbor to the new owner of Ralph’s house. And when you look at it, you see it was the perfect crime. No one visited Ralph or asked questions while he was at the senior residence. He was an easy mark for the caregiving couple who used their position to gain his trust and then abuse him. They stole his house. They may have disposed of Ralph, but no one questioned his death. They convinced the realtor that the female was his niece and that they had inherited the house. No one asked for proof of a family relationship.

There were a few people in this picture who might have prevented this tragic matter. There was a friend who had helped Ralph with paying bills and managing his affairs before he moved to the seniors’ residence. She could have done a bit of looking into this and been caring enough to find out how he was doing. She could have asked questions. She could have visited. The senior care facility manager should certainly have been suspicious of a frail elder with no family being moved back into his home. No one bothered to question the move, even after the criminal caregivers suddenly quit their jobs the day Ralph was taken out of that seniors residence. Any neighbor who knew Ralph could have done the right thing and asked about these strangers suddenly showing up and “caring” for Ralph.

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Elder orphans are all around us. They are people who are widowed or divorced and have no children and no relatives nearby or known to others. When they go to care homes, they become excellent targets for unscrupulous people. In this case the criminals got away clean.

The takeaways:

There is no law that says you have to look out for your frail elderly neighbors who are alone. But isn’t it the right thing to do? Get to know them a bit. Find out if they have any relatives nearby, anywhere in the U.S. or elsewhere. By all means ask questions. Find out if they have a lawyer. Get the name, call and make what’s going on known.

If you would be willing help an elder in your life with anything at all, help by paying attention. Notice who is in the home and what happens if they go to assisted living or elsewhere for care. Show up. Visit. The vulnerable ones who are alone are the most likely targets. These elder orphans could be any one of us, should we live long and outlive our relatives. Report any suspicious things to Adult Protective Services.

Bear in mind Ralph’s story. It really happened. We will never know if he died a natural death or if the caregivers made sure he expired when he did. The perfect crime happened because Ralph had no one to look out for his well being. We can do better just by being good neighbors. Sometimes the simplest small action you take can make all the difference.

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