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Author Harper Lee Victimized by Financial Elder Abuse

Elder abuse is an increasingly common problem in America, one that is becoming more prevalent as more Americans become senior citizens. It’s a problem that makes no distinction between race, class, or gender, and one that can come at the hands of even the most trusted advisor or closest family member.

Take, for example, the recent news that the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of the beloved novel “To Kill a Mockingbird,” Harper Lee, had been victimized by her own literary agent.

According to the details of the lawsuit filed on behalf of Lee, her agent, Samuel Pinkus, abused his position after Lee suffered a stroke in 2007. The lawsuit alleges that Pinkus gave Lee papers to sign that effectively transferred her royalties, and the associated copyrights, from “Mockingbird” over to him.

According to the lawsuit, Lee, who now lives in an assisted living facility in the same Alabama town in which she’s called home for decades, doesn’t have any recollection of signing the documents.

Prevalence of Elder Abuse

Unfortunately, cases like Lee’s are not uncommon. In 2010 there were nearly 6 million cases of reported elder abuse in the country, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics. That means that nearly one out of every 10 seniors was subject to some kind of exploitation or victimization. A large majority (67 percent) of elder abuse victims are women, and most cases of abuse (66 percent) occur at the hands of the elderly person’s spouse or adult child.

Financial Elder Abuse

Someone taking advantage of an elderly person’s finances, as in Ms. Lee’s case, for his or her own pecuniary gain is known as financial elder abuse. Other forms of abuse include physical or sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and abandonment. According to recent figures, financial abuse takes place in about 12 percent of all the elder abuse cases reported each year. Neglect, on the other hand, is the most common form, occurring in about 58 percent of elder abuse situations.


Taking the time to protect yourself, or an elderly loved one or family member, from possible elder abuse requires you consider all your options carefully. Seniors who are worried that they might one day have to rely on others to make their decisions should consider their options while they are still able to make choices. Waiting too long is never a good idea, and acting ahead of time can go a long way to fend off problems down the road.

Also, if you believe you’re being victimized or just need someone to talk to about a potential elder abuse situation, talk to an elder abuse attorney in your area as soon as you can.

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