You couldn’t make it up if you tried. A fraudster talks your elderly parent into changing their will at the last minute. Before you know it, a lifetime of your parent’s hard work and savings is in some scoundrel’s pocket. What if that scoundrel was a relative or respected caregiver?
Financial Abuse of Elders Not Uncommon
Elder abuse happens in the best and worst of families. From using power of attorney to clean out a parent’s bank account to pocketing their estate, trusted family members and long-time caregivers get away with abuse because they can tug on emotional heart strings like no other.
You’d Never Fall for That Fraud
Anyone can get tricked by a fraudster. Imagine how frustrating it gets for frail seniors who are manipulated into signing documents that give away their home or precious possessions. Caregiver forgery, family pressure to change a will, phony romantic entanglements — it happens all the time.
The Sad Case of a Hollywood Legend
Hollywood legend Mickey Rooney got a temporary restraining order against a stepson he said stole his money in 2011. The Emmy Award winning, five-foot-three wunderkind was nominated for an Oscar for Babes in Arms at 18. He was still acting at 93, when he recreated the role of Gus in Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb with Ben Stiller.
Even the Famous Get Abused
At 90, Rooney and a conservator accused his stepson and daughter-in-law of stealing $8.5 million. He told a Senate Special Aging Committee that elder abuse had made his life “unbearable”. The stepson settled for $2.8 million, still unpaid when Rooney died in 2014. But Rooney’s misfortunes didn’t end there. The actor’s eighth wife admitted to “pushing scuffles” and slapping incidents in a 2015 interview with The Hollywood Reporter.
Last Minute Will Changes Everything
Rooney had only $18,000 in his estate when he died and had changed his will three weeks earlier to leave everything to a stepson and daughter-in-law who cared for him at home. Although he was too poor to buy a burial plot, his estranged eighth wife received $100,000 a year from his pension and U.S. Social Security benefits.
When an Estate is Worth More Than Imagined
The actor’s legal troubles only got worse after his death. One month later, seven of Rooney’s eight biological children filed a lawsuit alleging he had been coerced into making the stepson and daughter-in-law his only heirs. That $18,000 was worth significantly more after licensing rights and memorabilia were factored in. Recognizing that, his last wife also filed suit, seeking the rights to future royalties, commercial use of his name or image and his Oscar, Emmys and collectibles.
What Stops Victims From Speaking Up
Rooney’s biological children told media they had been prevented from seeing their father in his later years. Their complaint is consistent with findings by CARP, the Canadian Association for Retired Persons advocacy group. Fear of retaliation, financial or physical dependency on caregivers, age discrimination, feeling ashamed or humiliated and being unable to speak up due to ill health all add to the secrecy. Over three quarters of a million Canadian seniors surveyed in 2015 said they were victims of elder abuse, yet only 20% of cases are ever reported.
Recognizing Elder Abuse Pattern
CARP reports 80% of elder abuse cases follow a recognizable pattern:
- misusing or stealing assets or property
- cashing cheques
- forging signatures
- pressuring seniors to sign legal documents or change their will
- living with them for free
- or abusing power of attorney.
Legally, financial abuse decreases a senior’s financial worth without providing any benefit.
How Undue Influence Affects an Ontario Will
Rooney’s children based their lawsuit on alleged undue influence. When changes to a personal will are dramatically different from the original, challenging an estate in Ontario court may be your best option. Can you prove a new will was signed under pressure? It may not be legally valid. It could even be fraud if your parent was given misinformation before making their decision.
Contesting a Will for Mental Incapacity
A feeble senior with dementia may lack the mental capacity to realize what they are signing. You may prove mental incapacity if you can show your parent didn’t know they were changing or signing a will. As the Ontario Ministry of Attorney General puts it, your parent “can’t understand relevant information or cannot appreciate what may happen as a result of decisions they make—or do not make—about their finances, health or personal care.”
Get Legal Advice Before You Contest a Will
Going to court can take months or years of your time. Before you contest a will, talk to a wills and estates lawyer about your concerns. They can offer a legal opinion on your chances of being successful. Your heart may be in the right place. Just make sure the outcome you want is worth the time and resources required to go to court.
Challenge a Will in an Ontario Court
Axess Law’s Ontario wills and estate lawyers give you practical legal advice about challenging a parental will. Dial 1-877-522-9377 or in Greater Toronto 647-479-0118 or use our online booking form to make an appointment. In person meetings can be arranged at our Ottawa, Toronto, Scarborough, Vaughan, Etobicoke, Mississauga Winston Churchill or Mississauga Heartland law offices.
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