Elder abuse and neglect is a growing problem in the United States. If you have an elderly loved one who could be vulnerable to abuse or neglect, a recent news story illustrates how easily your loved one could become an elder abuse victim. In a shockingly short period of time, a North Carolina woman drained an elderly man of his life savings.
According to news reports, 40-year-old Christy Paffenroth Ferguson met 80 year old Tony Ferguson when she was working at an adult day care center in Wilmington, North Carolina. Mr. Ferguson had recently lost his wife of 40 years, one of the scenarios that experts tell us makes an elderly individual particularly vulnerable to victimization. Shortly thereafter, Paffennroth (at that time) was hired by the victim’s daughter to be the victim’s caregiver. Paffenroth was paid $1,100 a month for her services, plus room and board in Ferguson’s home for her and her teenage son. Paffenroth moved in as Ferguson’s caregiver in May of 2012. By December of that year she had married him and by January she’d taken over as his power of attorney, according to New Hanover County Prosecutor Janet Coleman.
Shortly after Paffenroth gained power of attorney she took $120,000 out of Ferguson’s credit union and transferred it to a joint checking account along with obtaining an $80,000 equity line on his house. At the time, the house was paid for, meaning Mr. Ferguson was debt-free. If all of that isn’t bad enough, Paffenroth also got breast augmentation and got braces for her and her son. She paid for private school tuition for her son and his friend and spent thousands of dollars shopping.
After Paffenroth went through the victim’s bank account, she started cashing in his savings bonds. “At that point….he was virtually broke,” Coleman continued. “In March of 2014, she sold the house for $90,000.” The house had previously been valued at nearly twice that amount. Before Paffenroth got ahold of him, Ferguson has no debt. Now he lives in a nursing home alone. “All he wanted to do was go home. He doesn’t understand he doesn’t have a home,” Coleman said. “It literally broke my heart. And everyone else who was involved in this case.”
Paffenroth claims thigs were not as bad as the prosecution had made them sound. She claims that Ferguson and his daughter were estranged and that he was afraid his daughter would put him in a nursing home. Somehow that led to him asking Paffenroth to marry him. According to Paffenroth her love for Ferguson was legitimate, saying “I love him. I don’t want to ever leave him. It’s never been physical with him. He loves me like a father would love me,” Paffenroth said of their unconventional love story. “I have been a single mom all of my life…. It was security, not just financial security, he filled a void.”
How Did This Happen?
When most people hear stories such as this one the first thing they ask is “How could this happen?” In the case of Paffenroth, it was relatively easy because Ferguson was considered to be legally competent at the time she spent all of his money. “People are competent until they are declared incompetent,” Coleman explained. That involves court proceedings, and it wasn’t until after Ferguson’s money was gone and his house sold that the courts declared him legally incompetent. Ferguson resisted efforts by authorities to intervene, something that is not uncommon.
Not surprisingly, many elderly individuals do not want someone stepping in and taking away their independence and their ability to make decisions. While this may be understandable, it is sometimes necessary to step in to avoid your loved one becoming a victim like Ferguson did. If you are concerned about an elderly loved one, pursuing legal guardianship may be the answer. Although you may be reluctant to take away your loved one’s freedom and independence, the alternative could be much worse. Consult with your North Carolina estate planning attorney if you believe guardianship may be in your loved one’s best interest.
If you have additional questions about guardianship in North Carolina, contact an experienced North Carolina elder law attorney at The Law Offices of Cheryl David by calling 336-547-9999 to schedule an appointment.