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The most common perpetrators of elder financial abuse are family members. Often, the victim trusts and relies on the abuser to help them with errands, or lives with them and needs their assistance for household tasks. Only 1 out of every 24 cases of elder abuse is reported, and this is likely attributable to the fear of having a family member face criminal charges for the abuse or losing the help the family member provides.

Florence was 93 years old when she discovered that she was a victim of elder abuse at the hands of her great-grandson. Each month, he would transfer most of her Social Security check to his own bank account, leaving Florence with $200 a month to live on. She could not afford even the most basic items, such as clothing, deodorant or her $3 copay for her medication.

Florence began working with CELJ attorney Sarah Duval and social worker Katie Earl based on a referral from an adult day program. At the time, she was unaware of exactly how much money her great-grandson had stolen from her. Sarah and Katie put together an accounting of the withdrawals over the years, and found that over $14,000 had been taken. Although it was a difficult decision, Florence decided to let CELJ present the case to the District Attorney’s office. Her great-grandson pleaded guilty to a felony and had to serve jail time and pay restitution.

Not every victim of elder abuse is as strong and resolute as Florence was. There are many victims who never come forward. Every year, an estimated 5 million seniors are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation.


John is a 70-year-old Veteran. He received a notice from the housing authority, stating that he was responsible for thousands of dollars in back rent and that his current rental rate would also be raised. He was told that his Veteran’s benefits, which he received for being exposed to Agent Orange, should have been included in the initial calculation of his rent.

John struggled to make the higher rent payments, as well as pay a portion of the alleged back rent. He was unable to pay for basic necessities and could no longer do any activities outside of the home with his friends. The payments were making it impossible for him to live.

John contacted CELJ and worked with our housing unit. Paralegal Melissa Woods discovered that his Veteran’s benefits for exposure to Agent Orange should have been exempt from the calculation of his rent, and advocated on John’s behalf. She was able to get his rent lowered, and John received a check for $5072, which was the amount he had already paid towards the back rent. John can now live independently and with a better quality of life.



What a difference a year can make…

The smiling man on the right side of the photo was in a very different situation last year. The photo on the left is also Gary, in 2015. He was thin, was not getting his proper medications, had bruises and cuts on his face and he was scared. Gary was a victim of elder abuse, at the hands of his spouse. Gary’s wife physically and emotionally abused him, often hitting him with pans and calling him names. She also controlled the household finances, leaving Gary with many unmet needs.

Gary was connected with Center for Elder Law and Justice. He worked with an attorney and social worker in our Elder Abuse Prevention Unit. Through their efforts, Gary was able to leave his wife and move into a safe assisted living facility.He was able to obtain an order of protection to avoid future abuse and get benefits to make ends meet.

Gary’s story has a happy ending- he now lives in a safe
environment, has clean clothes, food and has gained weight. When asked about his life today at his new home, Gary said, “Here I have a chance to be me again.”
Not all victims of elder abuse have the same outcome that Gary did. It is estimated that only one in 24 cases of abuse are ever reported, and often times, victims do not want to criminally report wrongdoing by a friend or family member.

Center for Elder Law & Justice offers a way for victims of abuse to know their options, escape from abuse and improve their quality of life, all while having an advocate on their side. However, the need is great and our resources are limited. Please help people like Gary access justice this holiday season!


Western New York’s senior population is growing and is close to reaching 25% of the population. Statewide, the New York State Office for the Aging estimates that over the next 30 years, the over 60 population will increase by 47%. Recent reports have found that 32% of area of Baby Boomers and Gen-Xers are retiring without any personal or workplace retirement accounts.   Relying on only Social Security, these seniors are left to face emergency home repairs, rising property taxes, increased health care costs and other expenses without a savings account or retirement account to rely on.

Our legal services help our clients access health care, safe and affordable housing, protective services to remain free from violence and access to sufficient income to improve the overall quality of life.  In 2015, CELJ provided direct legal assistance to 3,594 people and provided community education through outreach to over 7,000 people. We advocate for our individual clients, but also for policy and systems change that will impact the populations we serve, particularly in the areas of elder abuse prevention, consumer protection and housing reform.

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