Pastor’s Family Sues Church over Alleged Elder Abuse

ncku7z-b88215563z.120140927132635000gl65bk1c.10A daughter of Pastor Chuck Smith, who founded the Costa Mesa-based Calvary Chapel, one of the largest protestant churches in the United States, filed suit in September against the church. The suit makes claims of elder abuse and wrongful takeover of property at the hands of the church’s board of directors. The daughter filed the suit on behalf of Pastor Smith’s widow, who allegedly suffers from Alzheimer’s. The president of the board of director’s is Pastor Smith’s son-in-law.

Elder Abuse: Family vs. Family

Cases of elder abuse are always difficult. But cases such as these that pit family against family are some of the most challenging elder abuse cases we face every day. This is particularly so in cases such as Pastor Smith’s, where there is a great deal of money involved, one side of the family is in charge, and there is seeming animosity between the two sides.

This case is particularly difficult because the alleged incidents of abuse can be rationalized. For instance, the daughter alleges that the nurse Pastor Smith’s son-in-law hired to care for him hastened his death by failing to call 911, and cites paramedic statements that if they had been called, Pastor Smith could have survived.

This statement may be true, but alone it is not proof of neglect. Perhaps Pastor Smith had a do not resuscitate order stating that he did not want extreme measures taken to prolong his life. If so, it would not matter whether calling 911 would have prolonged his life, because he had left explicit instructions to the contrary.

The suit also alleges that shortly after Pastor Smith’s death, the board of directors took control of his personal computers, hard drives, files and records, which were in his office, and stopped paying a monthly annuity to his wife. But again, this could have a perfectly rational explanation. The board may have needed these records to continue to run the church. The annuity may have been taken out under Pastor Smith’s name and not had a survivor benefit, so that it was due to the terms of the annuity itself, and not any wrongdoing by the board of directors, that resulted in the lack of payments.

It is also a necessary, though sad, task in these cases to look at the underlying family relationship. Are the allegations of elder abuse based on a real belief that the elderly family member was exploited, or due to underlying animosity between the caretaker and non-caretaker family members? This is always a possibility, especially in cases involving large sums of money, and where one family member (Pastor Smith’s other daughter, through her husband) was a trusted confidante to the elderly family member at the exclusion of others (the daughter filing the suit).

Help for Walnut Creek Victims of Elder Abuse

If you feel that your elderly loved one has been taken advantage of, or if you are the caretaker being accused of elder abuse, the elder abuse attorneys at the Walnut Creek Appel Law Firm LLP can help. Together our attorneys have a combined 60 plus years’ experience handling elder abuse cases, including cases of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation. We understand that emotions run high in these cases, especially if the abuse is inflicted by a family member. The attorneys at Appel Law Firm LLP will handle your case with sensitivity and dignity. Contact our office toll free at 888-511-6905, or complete our online contact form, to schedule an appointment.

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