A newly filed lawsuit in Oregon has brought the controversial topic of elder abuse to the front pages of North American news. A little background first, to set the stage.
The current environment
North America is similar to much of the world in its demographics. The U.S., for example, currently has about 45 million people over the age of 65. By 2020, that number will rise to 55 million (1 in 6 people). In Canada, the statistics are proportionally similar.
In B.C., we have about 800,000 people over the age of 65, or roughly 15% of the population. And the numbers are growing.
With our population aging, we can expect more people reaching 65 in the coming years. More important, they will comprise a higher proportion of the population.
It doesn’t stop there. In the context of elder abuse, what matters is the type of person who is now over age 65. Many are survivors of the Second World War and the Great Depression, and have owned their homes and otherwise lived frugally and saved a lot over the years.
With the tremendous rise in real estate values in B.C. over the past 20 years, especially in the Lower Mainland, many older people here are living with large Estates.
Sadly, this has created an atmosphere ripe for financial abuse.
The financial abuse of the elderly is, in my opinion, an epidemic. Countless stories are written every year, and for every story we hear, many more are never written about or told.
So many abuse cases don’t get reported for many reasons, including that many elderly people feel shame and are afraid to report it. They don’t want to bring “trouble” to children, other relatives or friends.
Abuse happens in different ways. The abundant literature in this area seems to conclude that an elderly person is most likely to suffer financial abuse at the hands of family members or others who know them.
Giving someone Power of Attorney can lead to abuse, in that the Attorney gets access to virtually all of the adult’s assets. An adult child, even without Power of Attorney, can gain access to their parents’ accounts. And a shaky or slow economy can lead to financial problems for many people and families.
The lawsuit in question was launched by the daughter of a deceased man who allegedly had Dementia. He was a police detective in Oregon and then a lawyer, and accumulated an Estate worth about $4 million.
The defendant, Ms. Campbell, is also a former Oregon police detective and married the man in 2010. As a detective, she specialized in investigations of elder abuse!
Ms. Campbell knew the deceased from working together in the past. They reconnected in 2010, and married after a two-month courtship. Not long after, the man changed his Will to make her sole beneficiary of his Estate. He died in 2014.
There is, understandably, a dispute over whether the deceased had Dementia when he married Ms. Campbell, and had questionable capacity to marry or even make a new Will.
Ms. Campbell was apparently known for going above and beyond the call of duty in her investigative work. No mention is made as to whether she is retired or still working (the news story suggests she is about 58 years old).
Governments in North America have done good work creating legislation to try to address the problem of elder abuse. In my opinion, however, no amount of legislation will solve the problem.
Abuse must be addressed at the family level, and although reporting it is always a concern, incidents should be reported early to try to stop the abuse before it is too late.
Meanwhile, it’s too early to reach a conclusion in this case with the little information we have, but the “optics” of an elder abuse detective marrying a former detective she knew (who might have lacked capacity) are clearly not good. (It would make a good movie script!)
But more seriously, all parties should take great care in such situations (for example, Ms. Campbell might have brought, and perhaps did bring, the relationship to the attention of her superiors). Usually, this doesn’t tend to happen.
This ad ran in the Richmond Review on April 1, 2015.