Our farmers are at high risk

Elder abuse: the farmer population as the next potential target

Florida is a state well-known for its agriculture. In fact, within the United States, it is safe to presume that most people think that the best oranges come from Florida (we certainly think they do). Agriculture is the second most important economic activity in Florida, preceded only by tourism. Agriculture contributes $104 billion in revenue to the state and employs two million people.

According to a 2016 study by Oregon State University and Portland State University, the average age of farmers is 60 years old. Additionally, it is believed that in the next twenty years, 10 million acres of farmland are going to change ownership. Like all other people, we can expect health issues to arise as our farmers age. Studies suggest that 38% of people who are over 85 years old have dementia or some impairment in their mental faculties.

The farmer population is a concrete example of a generation that is going to be compromised of a majority of elders. As such, special measures need to be taken to protect their hard work over the years. Unfortunately, elder abuse is a reality that society deals with on daily basis and can happen in different forms.

In the famous case of Patterson v. Patterson, 81 Iowa 626, 47 N.W. 768, (1891) the plaintiff was a 62-year-old mother who was incapable of managing her farms on her own. She then decided to convey her 85 acres of land, worth about $ 6,000.00, to one of her sons in exchange for “future maintenance and care.” The son moved to the farm and apparently made some improvements to the land. However, son and mother soon had a falling out and the mother demanded the son leave her land, which he did. Perhaps merely taking care of the property was not enough to keep the son’s end of the bargain. The mother filed a lawsuit against her son, alleging he “urged” her to execute the deed. In other words, the mother contended she did not have absolute free will in conveying the land and accordingly, sought to invalidate the deed. The Supreme Court of Iowa concluded that the son failed to give his mother the “maintenance and care” their contract required, especially given the mother’s age and health.

The Court defined the contract as binding the son to “give such care and attention to [the mother] as her age and infirmities demanded for her comfort” and added that the son, in failing to do so “in accord with this requirement of filial duty and of humanity” breached the contract, “thus failing to render the very consideration of the deed.” The Court found this sufficient to set the deed aside.

Although Patterson was decided in 1891, elder exploitation is still a serious issue in modern day America. The U.S Centers for Disease Control and Preventions, in a 2016 report, listed elder exploitation as a public health problem. Various data appear to corroborate this assessment: five million senior Americans seem to be financially exploited by scammers every year and some estimates indicate that seniors lose as much as $36.5 billion a year from exploitation.

There are two factors that make elder abuse especially hard to detect. First, as the Patterson case demonstrates, elder exploitation can occur within the family circle. In fact, about 60 percent of cases involve a wrongdoer who is a family member. Second, the fact that an elder person has impaired cognitive abilities does not necessarily mean that person is not legally competent. Stated differently, transactions that appear to exploit an elder’s cognitive inability might not be clearly considered invalid.

In sum, the farmer population is a segment that might be potentially targeted by people who try to take advantage of elders. Perhaps the most important tool to combat this kind of exploitation is to have trustworthy and skilled lawyers representing our elder population. At Chepenik Trushin LLP, we have trustworthy and skilled lawyers who zealously advocate for elders. Please do not hesitate to contact the lawyers at Chepenik Trushin LLP, who are experienced, ready, and willing to help – Bart Chepenik, 305-613-3548, Brad Trushin, (305) 981-8889. We are always available day and night to answer a few questions of concern in regards to your loved one.










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