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Are there legal guidelines to help me determine the difference between a "helpful granny" and a "financially abused elder?"

Memphis, TN |

I have become friends with a neighbor who is an elderly lady in her late 80's. She has confided in me that most of her retirement savings, over $100,000, has been parceled out to her four grandchildren over the course of the last few years. Even though all are in their twenties, she has kept most of them on an allowance of hundreds of dollars per month. Listening to her tell the many related stories, I have become increasingly alarmed by the emotional pressure being applied by her grandchildren and their unrelenting sense of entitlement. She recently confided that her savings are now down to less than 20% as a result. This seems criminal to me! Are there any legal guidelines to help me understand if I should report this situation as a financial form of elder abuse?

Attorney Answers 4


If you believe she is being financially exploited by the grandkids, report the matter to Adult Protective Services. They will investigate. I would be concerned that by making these gifts your friend may be rendering herself ineligibile for Medicaid if she needs to go to the nursing home and apply for public benefits anytime during the next five years.

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The Tennessee Department of Adult Protective Services would be an excellent resource: This is exactly the sort of thin such departments typically deal with.

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1 comment

Arnold Garson Cohen

Arnold Garson Cohen


Unfortunately Tennessee is an aberration among the various states on this issue. Law enforcement has little or no jurisdiction in many of these cases unless, and to the extent of, government money of the elderly person being at risk. I expect that legislation will be introduced next year allowing the Tennessee Legislature to better protect prospective elderly victims. Yes, you should contact APS, but stay on them and do not be surprised if it proceeds with less force and efficiency than you expect.


If the facts "seem" like elder abuse report them to adult protective services to investigate.

Lawrence Friedman, Bridgewater, NJ. Certified as an Elder Law Attorney by the ABA approved National Elder Law Foundation, former Chair NJ State Bar Association Elder and Disabilities Law Section, Member Board of Consultors of NJSBA Real Property, Trusts & Estates Law Section, Vice Chair Special Needs Law Section of National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys, and Master of Laws (LL.M.) in Taxation from N.Y.U. School of Law. Visit for articles and Q&A on elder law, special needs, wills, trusts, estates, and tax. Visit and subscribe for free timely updates to be delivered to your inbox. Information on both Avvo and does not constitute legal advice, as it is general in nature and may not apply to your situation or be subject to important changes. No attorney client relationship exists unless set forth in written engagement terms.

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Your inquiry relates to a serious problem that is difficult to handle. You should act as promptly as possible. Engaging an experienced elder care lawyer in Shelby County is probably necessary. I would send to you a very fine outline of a presentation by Knoxville attorney Lisa Gammeltoft which I recently attended on this subject. If you send to me your email address and remind me in the email what you are seeking, then I can send it to you. Perhaps it will help. I cannot attach it to this answer or give you a link to it. However, the following are references and links to resources which are cited in it:


1 Hall, Hall, Chapman, Exploitation of the Elderly: Undue Influence as a Form of Elder Abuse, Clinical Geriatrics, Vol. 3, No. 2, (February, 2005)

American Bar Association, Committee on Law and Aging

American Bar Association, American Psychological Association, Assessment of Older Adults with Diminished Capacity, available on the ABA website

Bennett Blum’s UI Web Page:

Brandl, Heisler, Stiegel, Undue Influence: The Criminal Justice Response (YWCA Omaha, 2006), available on the ABA website

Kruse, Think of Me as the Daughter You Never Had, NAELA News, August/September 2005. An excellent discussion of legal ethics and undue influence.

These comments do not constitute legal advice. They are general comments on the circumstances presented, and may not be applicable to your situation. For legal advice on which you may rely consult your own lawyer.

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