SACRAMENTO – Nine months ago, Liz Sanders of Woodland Hills had never been to the State Capitol. She had no idea who her state senator was, or what it might take to enact legislation. What she did know was that she had to do something to protect other families from the abuse that devastated her family. “My mother was preyed upon by her in-home caregiver. She was fleeced out of her life savings,” said Sanders. “I knew I had to do something to prevent another family from suffering this kind of heartbreak, but I didn’t know where to begin.”
Sanders said she started calling lawmakers. “And Senator Pavley was the only one who listened to me and decided to take action.” Now, due in large part to Liz’s passion and tenacity, Senator Pavley’s bill that aims to crack down on elder abuse is headed to the governor’s desk.
“The physical and financial abuse of elder and dependent adults is an insidious and growing problem in California,” said Senator Fran Pavley (D-Agoura Hills). “When Ms. Sanders called my office and explained what happened to her mother, it just made sense to pursue legislation.”
Sanders has flown to Sacramento several times to testify in support of Pavley’s SB 586, which passed the Senate today. The bill would double penalties for elder and dependent adult abuse and would impose new regulations for the issuance of so called “signature stamps.”
“A $20 signature stamp cost my mother three-quarters of a million dollars and left her in financial ruin,” said Sanders. “It simply shouldn’t be this easy.”
Banks issue signature stamps to elderly or disabled adults who are unable to physically get into a banking branch. Senator Pavley’s SB 586 would create a new framework for the issuance of these signature stamps, including requiring that a bank employee witness and sign all requests for new signature stamps. Banks would also be required to give customers information on the risks associated with the loss or misuse of the stamps. Pavley’s bill would also double the penalties for physical and financial elder abuse. The increase in fines would be allocated to Adult Protective Services in the county where the abuse occurred.
“I’m hopeful Governor Brown will sign this important piece of legislation,” said Senator Pavley. “This bill establishes some basic and common sense protections of one particular financial instrument that can be easily used to drain vast sums of money and assets.”
Sanders’ mother, Bette Isenberg of Westwood, died at the age of 82 last August. Prior to her death she was bedridden and needed constant care. Sanders said her mother’s caregiver used a signature stamp to cash checks, drain her bank account, and access her life insurance fund. “She used the stamp to add herself to my mother’s Neiman Marcus and Saks Fifth Avenue accounts by simply faxing over a letter that was signed with this stamp,” said Sanders. “She proceeded to charge over $80,000 on dormant accounts.”
Isenberg’s caregiver, Helen Wofford was convicted and sentenced to 32 months in prison in the case, but Sanders said there are other predatory caregivers out there. “They gain someone like my mother’s trust, and then they ruin their lives,” said Sanders.
Sanders contacted Senator Pavley’s office following her mother’s death and asked the lawmaker to consider authoring a bill. “I am so grateful to Senator Pavley and her staff for taking the time to listen to my mother’s story and to do something to prevent this from happening again,” Sanders said.
According to the California Department of Finance’s Demographic Research Unit, California’s senior population will grow by 43 percent to more than 6.35 million senior citizens by 2020. “We’re not doing enough to protect this vulnerable population,” said Senator Pavley. “This bill is a good beginning.”
SB 586, which is sponsored by AARP and the California Senior Legislature, passed out of the Senate Tuesday on a 25-13 floor vote. The governor has 30 days from when the bill reaches his desk to sign the legislation. “I’m thrilled we’ve made it this far,” said Sanders. “I won’t stop pushing until the governor signs our bill.”