Financial Exploitation of Elderly

Soldatich v. Jones, 290 So. 2d 497 (Fla. 4th DCA January 22, 2020)

Florida guardianship lawyers often encounter cases involving financial exploitation of the elderly or exploitation of a vulnerable adult. Attorneys receive calls from concerned friends or relatives regarding an elderly loved one being financially exploited or abused. What can you do, and how to know when you need an experienced guardianship lawyer?

Many times, cases that involve the exploitation of an elderly or vulnerable adult involve those with diagnoses of Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or other memory or cognition-related issue.

In the recent Fourth District Court of Appeal decision, Soldatich v Jones, 290 So. 2d 497 (Fla 4th DCA January 22, 2020), a caretaker appealed from the trial court’s injunction order against her for protection against exploitation of a vulnerable adult.

The vulnerable adult’s family sought an injunction against exploitation of a vulnerable adult, a year after a caretaker began caring for the vulnerable adult.  The injunction was sought pursuant to Florida Statute 825.1035, which statute explains how to seek an injunction to preclude somebody from taking advantage of a vulnerable family member or friend.  The petition alleged that the caregiver had exploited the vulnerable adult by various means.

On review of the family’s petition, the trial court entered an ex parte temporary injunction against the caretaker. A full hearing was later held.  At that hearing, the caregiver had denied the family’s allegations, said she had not had contact with the vulnerable adult since the entry of the temporary injunction and would not have further contact with the vulnerable adult.  The trial court then proposed to enter an order that granted the family’s injunction, and indicate that it was by agreement without the caregiver admitting any of the family’s allegations and without conducting an evidentiary hearing.  The trial court filled out a form order.  The written order was, however, problematic.  It contained findings which did not match or conform with what the court had stated – particularly in the findings section it had form findings which stated that after hearing the testimony of the parties and witnesses and found the vulnerable adult to be the victim of exploitation and in imminent danger of exploitation, that there was irreparable harm and no adequate remedy at law, that the threatened injury outweighs the harm, that the relief provides for physical or financial safety to the vulnerable adult.  The order also contained form findings which involved the caregiver – but an evidentiary hearing did not occur, the caregiver did not consent to findings, and there was not testimony.  Accordingly, the appellate court found fundamental error on the part of the trial court.  The Fourth District reversed the trial court’s injunction order and remanded the matter to the trial court for the order to be amended.  These form findings should have been deleted.  These were not part of the trial court’s oral pronouncement and not consented to by the caregiver.

If you are in a situation where you believe an adult family member or friend is being subjected to exploitation by a caregiver, you should speak with an experienced guardianship lawyer.  Petitioning for guardianship under Chapter 744 of the Florida Statutes may be an option, but the injunction process such as the above may also be a consideration.