Michael Jackson's Mother claims Elder Abuse: What are her legal options?
Michael Jackson's 86 year old mother Katherine filed legal documents Wednesday claiming her former driver and nephew in law, Trent Jackson, had subjected her to years of elder abuse. She requested a restraining order, which was temporarily granted by the court, and will likely be permanently approved.
The caregiver to Michael Jackson's three children, Prince, Paris and Blanket, accused her nephew of both financial and emotional elder abuse, including isolation from other family members.
Elder abuse can take on a variety of different forms. The most prevalent forms I see in my practice are financial elder abuse and emotional elder abuse - which often includes isolation from family and friends. Katherine accuses Trent Jackson of both. Before we get in to the legal ways to combat elder abuse, let's first address what elder abuse looks like, using Ms. Jackson's case an example.
What forms can Elder Abuse take?
Financial Elder Abuse
Infiltrating Business and Personal Affairs. The lawsuit accuses Trent Jackson of "infiltrating" all aspects of Ms. Jackson's affairs, even referring to himself as her "house manager." When a family member or friend becomes intimately involved in the affairs of a much older individual, their ability to manipulate or "unduly" influence is often greater. This is because older people are often more vulnerable mentally, physically, and emotionally.
Accessing Bank Accounts. Katherine's lawsuit accuses her nephew of accessing her bank accounts without permission. According to the lawsuit, her nephew also used her credit cards without approval. In most cases of elder abuse, the alleged abuser does not outright "steal" funds from the elder. Instead, they apply pressure or manipulate the older individual to directly hand over funds or property. In Ms. Jackson's case, it is likely that Trent was given some permission to use bank or credit card accounts, and simply used the privilege beyond the scope of Ms. Jackson's intention.
Emotional Elder Abuse
Isolation. The lawsuit claims that Katherine's nephew had begun to "regulate Mrs. Jackson’s interactions with her children — screening phone calls, not relaying messages, not allowing privacy during visits or phone calls." Isolation is a hallmark sign of elder abuse.
Manipulation. Manipulation is most often inherent in both financial and emotional elder abuse. In Ms. Jackson's case, the legal docs claim Trent manipulated her in several different ways. First, was his manipulative behavior regarding financial affairs. This is the most common type of manipulation I see in cases of elder abuse. Trent even went so far as to convince Katherine not to press charges against him. The lawsuit claims Trent "preyed upon her known kindness" by "crying and begging her not to report him," even when Adult Protective Services or the Police had already arrived.
Fear and Confusion. Katherine claims that Trent subjected her to significant mental abuse that left her “in a constant state of fear and confusion.” In the lawsuit she calls Trent an "abusive con-man."
What are your Legal Options to combat Elder Abuse in California?
Legal options for Elder Abuse depend on whether the victim is living or deceased.
If the Victim is Living, there are 3 legal ways to combat Elder Abuse in the Civil and Probate Courts.
If the Victim is deceased, a Financial Elder Abuse lawsuit is the best legal route for pursuing Justice and financial retribution.
1. Restraining Order
Katherine Jackson chose the route of the Restraining Order. This is the most direct way to remove an unwanted or abusive person from an elder's life. A restraining order is often employed when the elder knows they are being abused and wants to cut all ties with the abuser. In many cases, the alleged or suspected abuser is a close family member, and it is not ideal for them to be cut out completely. It is also common that the victim of abuse has a mental impairment such as Alzheimer's or dementia and does not fully comprehend his or her surroundings. In such instances, a Conservatorship is the best legal way to combat elder abuse and protect the elder.
If financial, emotional, or physical elder abuse of an elder with dementia or other serious cognitive impairment is occurring (or suspected), a Conservatorship may be necessary. A conservatorship is when the court grants a person legal authority over the medical and financial decisions of another person. This allows the person named as conservator to take action to protect either the finances or the health (or both) of the elder (conservatee). A Conservatorship is an expensive and time consuming endeavor which is generally used only when no other options are available.
3. Elder Abuse Lawsuit
Elder abuse lawsuits can be filed in the probate court if the alleged victim is living or deceased. Most elder abuse lawsuits within the probate courts are financial elder abuse cases where one party is seeking financial retribution for crimes or fraud committed in the past. An elder abuse claim may accompany a Conservatorship, but in many cases financial elder abuse lawsuits are filed after the alleged victim has passed. Often this is because the abuses are not discovered until later. The most common type of financial elder abuse claim I see is when an individual changes his/her trust or will late in life, either after or around a diagnosis of dementia (or similar cognitive impairment) and at the behest of a close family member or caregiver. However, this is by no means the only form that elder abuse takes.
The purpose of the elder abuse lawsuit is to seek financial retribution. In combination with a Conservatorship, financial justice and protection can both be sought through the probate court system.
In Katherine Jackson's case, she will likely not pursue an Elder Abuse lawsuit. Most elderly persons in her situation seek to remove the person from their lives and reduce any further stress. It is unlikely that her nephew has any money of his own, and therefore an elder abuse lawsuit would not significantly benefit Ms. Jackson, and would result in more stress and attorney's fees.
For questions about Elder Abuse or Conservatorships, contact my SF East Bay Elder Law Firm at 925-322-1795 for a consultation.