Legal Issues and Resources For Seniors

Seniors may have unique or different legal needs and issues from their younger friends and family. The information here is not meant to provide a comprehensive guide to these issues, but rather provide a useful starting point for seniors and their families. A great site for more information is the California Department of Aging, which offers a wide variety of programs and services. For specific legal issues relating to seniors, you might also want to check out the State Bar of California’s Seniors and the Law.

In addition to the information on this page, you might also want to see our pages on:


Elder abuse can be physical and it can also be financial. Elder abuse is a problem and it is a crime. That’s why the Attorney General has a Bureau of Medi-Cal Fraud and Elder Abuse. A copy of the Bureau’s Citizen’s Guide To Preventing and Reporting Elder Abuse is available here. To find out more about preventing elder abuse or if you suspect someone you know is being abused, go the Bureau’s website.

Additional information is also available from the California Department of Social Services Adult Protective Services. You may also contact your county adult protective services office or 24-hour abuse hotline.

Signs of elder abuse

Unfortunately, much elder abuse comes not from strangers, but from family members and caretakers. Below are some of the signs to look out for, but the presence of one or more of these does not necessarily mean abuse has occurred. Rather, it means that diligent attention to your loved ones or further investigation may be necessary.

Physical Signs

  • Uncombed or matted hair
  • Poor skin condition or hygiene
  • Unkempt appearance
  • Patches of missing hair or bleeding scalp
  • Untreated medical conditions
  • Malnutrition or dehydration
  • Torn or bloody clothing
  • Scratches, blisters, lacerations, or pinch marks
  • Unexplained bruises, welts, burns, or injuries that reflect the outline of an object
  • Any injury that comes with an unacceptable or unbelievable explanation

Financial Signs

While physical abuse will often leave physical scars, elder financial abuse may be more difficult to spot. Here are some things to look for:

  • Unusual bank account activity
  • Signatures on checks and other documents that do not resemble the senior’s signature
  • Lack of personal amenities, like appropriate clothing and grooming items
  • Numerous unpaid bills when there is a caretaker supposed to be taking care of these
  • Unusual or different spending habits, such as purchasing things the elder doesn’t need or can’t use
  • The appearance of a stranger who is now handling the senior’s finances

Isolation Signs

Abusers will sometimes use isolation to maintain control. Here are some signs to look out for:

  • The caretaker, which could include a family member, has isolated the senior from contact with others including family, visitors, medical care providers, spiritual advisers and clergy, or friends
  • The senior is not allowed to speak freely or have contact with others without the caretaker being present
If you suspect elder abuse call 800-722-0432 or file an Online Complaint Form.

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Seniors are likely to be the targets of scams designed to take advantage of them. Scam artists target seniors because they believe they may be more trusting, more easily scared, or more likely to be confused, even though these assumptions are not true of all or even most seniors. They are also targeted because scam artists believe, often correctly, that they are likely to have money and property for the taking. Unfortunately, the number and types of scams are numerous and consistently changing. That is why it’s important to always investigate fully before giving your money to a stranger or even someone on the other side of the phone claiming to be a family relative.

While there are some scams directly aimed at seniors, seniors, like others, can be victims of any of the scams out there. Visit our Common Scams page for more information

Grandma I’m in Jail – You get a phone call from someone saying, “This is your grandson, I’m traveling, and I’ve been arrested. Help, I need $500 for bail. Go to Walmart and send the money to the following….” Don’t panic. First ask questions to determine if it really is your grandchild. If they called you “Grandma” don’t say “Is this Michael,” ask “Who is this?” Ask him the name of his parents. Check with your son or daughter to find out if your grandchild is even traveling. Ask where the child is being held and confirm the information on the internet.

This is Medicare calling – It’s not hard for a scam artist to guess what health insurance a senior has. So you might get a call from “Medicare” about your coverage. They may try to sell you bogus additional insurance or just try to get your personal information so that they can steal your identity or bill Medicare for services you’ve never received. If you have any doubts about whether it is Medicare really calling, get their information and contact Medicare yourself. Monitor your Medicare account and contact it about charges for services you didn’t receive. You can also set up an online Medicare account at

We’ve got a great deal on your prescription - You should never assume that prescription drugs you buy on the internet are what you should be taking. They may be sugar pills. They may be something much more dangerous. If you’re unable to pay for your prescriptions, you may be eligible for assistance from the drug manufacturer. You may also contact the California’s Health Insurance Counseling and Advocacy Program (HICAP) to find out if there is a program to help you.

We’re so sorry for your loss (1) – Scam artists will attend a stranger’s funeral and seek out the surviving spouse and claim that the deceased owed the scam artist money.

We’re so sorry for your loss (2) – Unscrupulous funeral homes may try to take advantage of your grief by selling you burial items and other services that are unnecessary or inappropriate to your financial condition. Consider making arrangements for yourself and your loved ones before death. Don’t be ashamed to shop around and look for the best services for the best price. But make sure that the service provider is licensed by California’s Cemetery and Funeral Bureau. Check out the Bureau’s consumer page at

Have I got a deal for you - If you get a telemarketing call, don’t make the purchase over the phone. Ask them to send you the information so you can review it. Get the company’s full name and address. Ask friends and family for advice. And never give out your credit card or financial information to strangers who call you!

You’ve won - If someone calls and says you’ve won a prize or a lottery, and all you need to do is pay the taxes or shipping and handling, don’t believe it. You shouldn’t have to pay money to receive something you’ve legitimately won. Ask for details in writing and check it out carefully.

We’ll pay you to live in your house – If you’re over 62 and own your own home, you may be eligible for a “Reverse Mortgage.” Reverse mortgages are designed to allow senior homeowners to convert the equity in their home into income to supplement other sources of income. There are situations when a reverse mortgage may fit your needs, but you should proceed cautiously. As with any financial product, there can be significant costs and significant disadvantages. Check them out carefully, shop around, and make sure you understand all of the risks and conditions involved. You don’t want to buy a product that might not pay off for decades or could put your family on the street. If you are considering a reverse mortgage, consult with trusted resources, such as family, your attorney, and your financial advisor, before making any significant investment decision. A helpful guide on reverse mortgages is available from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.

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