California’s Caregiver Statute: Protecting the Elderly Against Undue Influence

Caregiver StatuteMany elderly Californians are looked after by caregivers during their golden years. Caregivers frequently play a critical role in the lives of senior citizens, and many develop close personal friendships with the people that they care for. Based on these friendships, many seniors choose to include caretakers in their will in order to leave them a token of their appreciation. While seniors who are mentally competent should clearly be allowed to gift their assets to whomever they choose, gifts given by the elderly to caregivers are often considered to be suspect as some caregivers are in a unique position to exercise undue influence.

In order to protect seniors from undue influence by their caregivers, California enacted the Care Custodian Statute under California Probate Code section 21350. This statute is designed to prevent financial elder abuse by making testamentary gifts to care custodians presumptively invalid. In other words, if someone in California bequeaths assets in their will to their caregiver the gift is generally presumed to be invalid. This article provides a brief overview of California’s Care Custodian Statute by outlining the definitions provided in the statute, and by examining how a presumption of invalidity can be overcome.

Definitions: “Dependent Adults” and “Care Custodians”

Under California’s Care Custodian Statute, a testamentary gift is presumed to be invalid if the giver qualifies as a dependent adult and the recipient qualifies as a care custodian. The statute defines a “dependent adult” as a person who is at least 18 years old and who is not able to provide for his or her own personal needs. Personal needs can include tasks associated with health, clothing, food, shelter, managing financial affairs etc. Furthermore, the statute defines a “care custodian” as a person who provides personal or social services to a dependent adult for a fee. Additionally, a caregiver does not qualify as a care custodian if they had a personal relationship with the dependent adult more than three months before starting to care for them, or six months before the dependent adult was either admitted to hospice care or died.

Exceptions to the General Rule

While a testamentary gift from a dependent adult to a care custodian is presumptively invalid, there are a number of exceptions under which this presumption is overturned. These exceptions include situations in which:

  • The dependent adult and the care custodian are related by blood within the fourth degree,
  • The care custodian is the dependent adult’s spouse or domestic partner,
  • The dependent adult’s estate left gifts of $150,000 or more and the gift left to the care custodian was not more than $5,000,
  • The dependent adult obtained a Certificate of Counsel from a qualified attorney before executing their will naming the care custodian as a beneficiary, or
  • The care custodian can show in court that the gift was not obtained by fraud or undue influence.

Need Legal Advice?

The elder abuse lawyers of the Case Barnett Law Firm are committed to zealously protecting the rights of senior citizens in Southern California. If you suspect that a senior citizen is being, or has been, unduly influenced by a caregiver contact our Newport Beach office today at (949) 861-2990.

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