Unfortunately, elder abuse is an all-too common crime. It can take many forms, but one of the most common — and most egregious — involves exploitation of a senior citizen or other incapacitated adult by his or her caretaker. A new California law is taking aim at one example of this type of elder abuse that can occur when a scheming caregiver marries their client in an attempt to gain control of the client’s assets.
Under current California law, there is a presumption of fraud or undue influence if a dependent adult leaves assets or other property to a caregiver when the dependent adult dies. However, the law provides exemptions in cases where the transferee caregiver is a spouse, a domestic partner, or otherwise lives with the dependent adult. That exemption was based on the idea that it is natural to want to give gifts in such cases. For unscrupulous caregivers, the obvious way to get around the law was to marry their clients in order to inherit the clients’ estates.
Beginning January 1, 2020, amendments to the California Probate Code eliminate the automatic exemption when a caregiver marries their client, enters into a domestic partnership with them, or cohabitates with them within 90 days from the last time they provided care services to the client. This puts the burden of proof on the caregiver to demonstrate through clear and convincing evidence that the relationship with the client was legitimate and that the gift or transfer of assets should stand.
A second change to the law will mean that caregivers who marry their clients will no longer be able to claim part of the deceased clients’ estates simply by claiming they were inadvertently omitted in the clients’ Wills or estate plans. As with the change to the law for transfers to caregivers, this is also a rebuttable position. So, if a caregiver can demonstrate their marriage to the client was genuine and that they truly were an omitted spouse under the law, they can still inherit.
Creating or updating your estate plan to reflect your wishes as your life changes can help ensure those wishes will be honored when you die or become incapacitated. To learn more, contact the Estate Planning & Legacy Law Center today!