Clinical Psychology Seattle Creating the life you want

Experience: Legal

I have specialized training and experience to work on forensic cases specifically looking at issues of cognitive impairment in elders, whether the elder has been a victim of crime/abuse, or whether the elder was competent at the time of making a fiduciary decision.

I have been an expert witness for the defense and the prosecution, depending upon the case. I work closely with elderlaw and family attorneys, and have had over six years experience collaboration with attorneys, judges, law enforcement, social services, geropsychiatrists, geriatricians, bankers, realtors and others who are often involved in cases of fraud or abuse against elders.

I was a member of the Los Angeles Fiduciary Abuse Specialist Team (FAST), the nation's first fully multidisciplinary team designed to assess, prosecute and prevent cases of financial abuse. When I moved to Seattle, I joined the POET team (Protecting Our Elders Together), sponsored by the Seattle Police Department, and designed to educate law enforcement personnel and to have multiple agencies who work with such cases collaborate well together. I have trained police departments, prosecuting attorneys, and mental health professionals on these issues.

My clinical training in geriatrics gives me a strong basis to understand the family relationships and other common scenarios in which elders are at risk for financial, emotional, psychological, or physical abuse. I also have a good understanding of dementia syndromes and the kinds of medical or psychological conditions that are often seen in these cases.

The two main legal constructs that support cases where older adults are at risk are diminished capacity and undue influence.

Diminished capacity refers to cases where an individual, for physical or psychological reasons, demonstrates an inability to be aware of the risks, benefits and probable consequences of a particular decision. In order to demonstrate this, the elder is given a battery of neuropsychological assessments, which demonstrate cognitive strengths and weakness, and support or deny the person's capacity to make such a decision at the time they made it.

Undue influence refers to the situation where others exert their power, influence and, oftentimes, threats, against another, and in so doing, force the other to agree to things which they normally would not. This can happen to adults and children of any age, not just older adults. To demonstrate whether undue influence was operating, there are a variety of factors in the situation that I assess, both about the older adult, and the alleged perpetrator, and any other circumstances that promote undue influence.

Here are some examples of the cases for which I provided my expertise, and ways in which I was able to use my passion to help vulnerable adults:

  • Verifying an elder's capacity to make financial decisions (estate planning, getting married, buying or selling off large assets), and, when in the elder's best interests, reversing decisions that were made if the elder lacked capacity to understand the full risks, benefits and consequences of the decision.

  • Proactively "locking in" financial decisions so that they cannot later be overturned by family or acquaintances. This is done by having an assessment of cognitive functioning occur at the same time as new legal documents or financial decisions are being made. Thus, if anyone comes back several years later and tries to overturn the decision, the estate is well protected.

  • Determining if an elder was capable of giving full consent for certain financial decisions (i.e., changing a will, selling a home, getting home improvement done on the home, agreeing to give someone access to a credit card or ATM card), and if not, helping determine that such actions were likely due to undue influence and cognitive impairment.

  • Overturning financial decisions, even after an elder has passed away, by being able to demonstrate that, at the time the decisions were made, the elder lacked capacity or was subject to undue influence.

  • Viewing videotapes and listening to audiotapes of an older adult to determine the likelihood of subtle cognitive impairment and/or methods of undue influence being used against an elder.

  • Educating juries, with clear and concise language that is easy to understand, about dementia syndromes, including Alzheimer's Disease, and how such syndromes are likely to impact individuals' cognitive capacity at different points as the illness progresses.

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