Elder financial abuse is a distressing issue that affects vulnerable seniors, often leading to significant financial losses. In the realm of legal remedies, one powerful tool used to address such cases is the constructive trust. But what exactly is a constructive trust, and how does it work?

At its core, a constructive trust is a legal remedy aimed at correcting unjust enrichment and ensuring that property or assets are returned to their rightful owner. Unlike a traditional trust created by a formal legal agreement, a constructive trust arises by operation of law. It’s a flexible and equitable concept that courts employ when they find that someone has obtained property, assets, or benefits in an unfair or wrongful manner.

Constructive trusts are not exclusive to elder financial abuse cases; they can be applied in various situations where one party has benefited at the expense of another without a proper legal basis. For purposes of our discussion however, we’ll focus on their use in elder financial abuse situations.

Examples of Constructive Trusts in Elder Financial Abuse

  1. Unauthorized Transfers of Assets:

    Imagine an elderly individual, Ms. Johnson, who, due to cognitive decline, unknowingly signs over her valuable property to her caregiver, Mr. Smith. Later, it’s discovered that Mr. Smith manipulated Ms. Johnson into making this transfer for his own financial gain. In such a scenario, a constructive trust could be imposed, ensuring that the property is returned to Ms. Johnson, as it rightfully belongs to her.
  1. Exploitative Investments:

    Consider a situation where an elderly person, Mr. Brown, is persuaded by a family member, Ms. Davis, to invest a substantial portion of his savings in a dubious business venture. Ms. Davis takes control of the funds, mismanages them, and ultimately leaves Mr. Brown with nothing. A constructive trust could be used to compel Ms. Davis to account for and return the misappropriated funds to Mr. Brown.

Key Legal Aspects of Constructive Trusts

Law without principle is not law; law without justice is of limited value. Since adherence to principles of “law” does not invariably produce justice, equity is necessary.

So begins the article on constructive trusts written by Gary E. Bashian of the Bashian Law Firm in White Plains, NY.  Bashian outlines four conditions that must normally be met for the courts to apply the constructive trust remedy: the existence of a confidential or fiduciary relationship between parties, a promise made by the defendant, a transfer of assets resulting from that promise, and unjust enrichment of the defendant.

However, courts have not been so rigid within these conditions, as Bashian states:

Equity, after all, has evolved throughout the history of Jurisprudence to ensure justice when and where the rigid formalism of the law cannot. Indeed, given the nature of an equitable action and the fact that a Constructive Trust is primarily a device to prevent Unjust Enrichment, the Courts have allowed flexibility in the pleading standards of a Constructive Trust, i.e.: a Plaintiff need not necessarily prove each element, nor must the facts rigidly conform to the above listed elements. As the Court of Appeals has made clear that when applying Constructive Trusts: “[t]he equity of the transaction must shape the measure of relief”, thus allowing the doctrine of Constructive Trusts to remedy a myriad of wrongs in many situations where the power of equity is appropriately used.

Using Constructive Trusts as a Legal Remedy

Constructive trusts are a vital legal remedy in cases of elder financial abuse, ensuring that vulnerable seniors are protected from wrongful enrichment and exploitation. By understanding the concept of constructive trusts, recognizing their application in elder abuse scenarios, and leveraging them as a legal remedy, we can help bring justice to those who have been wronged and deter future instances of financial exploitation within our elderly population.

This article discusses several legal concepts, the application of which is the practice of law. If you suspect that you or a loved one is being exploited or may be the victim of elder financial abuse, you should call the elder abuse hotline at 888-277-8366 or seek legal representation from an experienced attorney who specialize in elder law or trust litigation.