Elder Abuse Laws and Destroying the Presumption of Joint Tenancy

By November 15, 2012

By Bruce A. Katzen

Recently, I handled a very interesting FINRA arbitration dealing with exploitation of the elderly by a joint tenant – in this case, her granddaughter.
What made this case so interesting is that we were able to use the elder abuse statute to support our claim.  Traditionally, joint tenants both have the authority to withdraw funds from the account.  Because the granddaughter was a joint tenant, we had to overcome the presumption that she was entitled to take money from the account at her discretion.

However, the evidence clearly showed that the granddaughter was added to the account because she was a broker’s assistant at the company that managed her grandmother’s assets and the family believed she would keep tabs on the money.  In fact the granddaughter was added to the account to help her elderly 95-year-old grandmother, not to help herself to all of grandma’s money.   But instead of helping, the granddaughter withdrew over $250,000 for her own personal use, including gym memberships and a luxury car.
Florida’s elder abuse statute is comprised by Fla. Stat. §§ 825.103 and 772.11, which provide remedies for the exploitation of the elderly.  Section 772.11 provides civil remedies for those who are victims of criminal activities against the elderly that are set forth in Section 825.103.  In our case, because the granddaughter was a joint tenant on the account, it was critical to demonstrate that the purpose of the account was to care for the grandmother, and later the mother, and that the granddaughter, the broker and the investment firm all knew the purpose of the account.  This allowed us to rebut the presumption that the granddaughter was entitled to withdraw significant sums of money from the account without authorization from the other joint tenant.  Consequently, the granddaughter, the broker and the firm were all found to have violated Florida law and were liable for the losses incurred by the family.