Criminalizing Exploitation of the Elderly and Its Effects on Estate Planning
For estate planning attorneys, the concept of criminal punishment is not the first thought when asked: “What could be the outcome?” In a typical case, the worst that happens is the client losses their share of an inheritance or perhaps ends up paying more taxes on the estate. However, Fla. Stat. §825.103 makes exploitation of an elderly person or disabled adult a criminal offense. But what is exploitation under the statute? A person is guilty of exploitation if they knowingly obtain or use, or endeavor to obtain or use, an elderly person’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to temporarily or permanently deprive the elderly person of the use of the funds, assets, or property. The person must be a person who stands in a position of trust and confidence with the elderly individual, or has a business relationship with the elderly individual. A Fourth District Court of Appeal case shows the slippery slope of how a situation that should be dealt with by a will contest can turn into a criminal trial.
In Cynthia Franke v. State, Cynthia Franke’s appealed her conviction for financial exploitation of the elderly. Franke and Mary Teris had been friends for almost thirty years and met when Teris became a client of the firm where Franke was a stockbroker. Franke and Teris became very close over the years and developed a mother/daughter type of relationship. Franke helped Teris, including driving her wherever she needed to go and helping with Teris’ two disabled adult sons.