Yes, it’s the cat that grabs your attention: An elderly woman in Brighton, who prosecutors say was robbed of her savings by two scheming neighbors, intended to will much of her $450,000 fortune to a pet named Puddy Cat. Parts of the tale invite gleeful comparisons to hotel heiress Leona Helmsley, who willed $12 million to her dog. But the colorful details belie a serious issue — the need to be vigilant about elder abuse.
According to statistics from the National Center on Elder Abuse, financial abuse of elders is more commonplace than physical or sexual abuse, and is likely to grow more prevalent still as the population ages. And some of the advice that’s often given for elders' self-protection, such as signing away the power of attorney, can sometimes become the source of exploitation. The National Adult Protective Services Association says abusers are likely to be caretakers or trusted friends, exploiting dementia and physical vulnerability, sometimes withholding medical care to hold onto financial assets.
The 74-year-old Brighton woman, according to prosecutors, was no Leona Helmsley. She was merely an increasingly ill person with dementia and an overabundance of trust. Authorities accuse her two neighbors, aged 58 and 63, of playing on her emotions while lying about their names. Prosecutors say they convinced their victim to grant them legal powers, then slowly siphoned off her assets, which they spent on such things as a car, an iPad, and a Vitamix blender. By the end, the woman’s bank account was down to $2.16 — another colorful fact, but certainly no joke.