A case of financial exploitation for a woman with dementia

Gertrude* is a 104-year-old woman with dementia who grew up in the Bahamas and moved to the United States as a teenager. Her husband and son had pre-deceased her, both of them dying in the late 1960s. Many years ago, Gertrude was living in a home in Miami, Florida that she owned, until a woman we’ll call Nell—who had been living with Gertrude in her Florida home and claimed to be her granddaughter—brought her to New York City.  

Gertrude lived in a basement apartment in Nell’s building, in conditions unfit for an elderly woman with multiple needs. The apartment was small, cluttered, and hot. Gertrude was allegedly held there against her will and wanted to return home to Florida. 

During this period, Nell depleted Gertrude’s bank and retirement accounts, and used her Social Security income and other retirement funds for her own personal use. She took out a mortgage on Gertrude’s home in Florida and used the proceeds to purchase a home for herself in New Jersey, in part under Gertrude’s name. Other family members petitioned for guardianship because they believed that Gertrude was being financially exploited and even physically abused by Nell. 

This is when The Guardianship Project (TGP) entered the picture. When TGP was appointed in 2010, and when Gertrude came to TGP, she was 97 years old. We worked to obtain a restraining order protecting her from Nell. TGP also secured Gertrude in a low-income senior housing residence in Manhattan and also procured for her 24-hour home care. 

TGP then performed an exhaustive investigation of Gertrude’s financial history, particularly for the period of time when Nell became involved. We investigated the property transactions made in her name, and combed through extensive medical records, to conclude that Gertrude had dementia at the time of the transactions. We brought the case to the attention of the District Attorney and collaborated with his office in the case against Nell. 

In the time since Gertrude has been our client, TGP has worked with her other family members, recertified her affordable housing eligibility, and continues to protect her very meager assets and home and medical care. As a result of our involvement, Gertrude remains safely at home in her one-bedroom apartment with food in the refrigerator and ‘round-the-clock home care, safe from her alleged exploiter.


Restoring lapsed reparations and returning a 95-year-old Holocaust survivor to his home of 65 years

When The Guardianship Project (TGP) first met Joseph* in 2015, he was a 94-year-old Holocaust survivor stuck in a nursing home. Born in Austria, Joseph’s parents and his brother were killed in the Holocaust. He had been a widower for more than 25 years, and his one son lived far away in Los Angeles. He had no friends or family nearby, nor anyone to grant him his one wish: a return to the apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan where he had lived for almost 65 years, since 1951.

TGP developed a safe discharge plan with home care in place, so that Joseph could return home. Non-ambulatory and wheelchair-bound, Joseph needed an aide to help care for him in his residence, and TGP went to court to demand that his home care be increased from 12 to 24 hours of live-in care, which he very much needed. We also advocated for the installation of a ramp to his apartment building, which has given him and his caretaker ease of access and much greater freedom. 

In addition, his Holocaust reparations payments had lapsed; through TGP’s work these payments were restored. Joseph also owed his former nursing home a significant amount of money, so TGP put in place a sustainable financial plan to ensure that he could remain home for as long as medically possible. Previously, because of his weakened condition, Joseph was unable to address these complicated issues on his own.  

Returning home has had an incredible impact on Joseph’s well-being, and his physical health has greatly improved. He is fortunate to have a very dedicated home health aide, and we have arranged for redelivery of a long-time daily staple—The New York Times. He is engaged again with life and part of the community. 

Joseph has been described as a very sweet man, a man to whom we are honored to deliver holiday meals for Passover and Rosh Hashanah. During the less festive days of the year, we bring gefilte fish, challah, and his all-time favorite—matzo ball soup. An interior designer by profession, Joseph is drawn to the arts (painting in particular), and enjoys writing poetry. He speaks six languages and is a lover of books. Every week he looks forward to a visit from a TGP volunteer and likes to plan ahead—often sharing his poetry, recommending books to read, and offering up some interesting conversation. 

We continue to make sure that Joseph’s medical and health needs are being met. We are as determined as he is, that he will live in his home for all of his remaining years. This is his most fervent wish, to be able to choose his fate, a choice he says that his parents and his brother did not have.