The Age Defense

July 8th, 2008 by Kathy McManus

Should elderly people be exempt from responsibility if they make bad financial decisions?

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

There’s an age when society expects people to be responsible—usually about 21.

But is there also an age when people are no longer expected to be responsible?

How about 73? That’s the age a California widower named Robert Pyle was when he made a series of decisions that triggered a financial freefall, resulting in the loss of his $650,000 home and $500,000 life savings.

Now 81, Mr. Pyle is suing the financial institutions and various people he trusted with his money, claiming he should be compensated because he is too old to bear full responsibility for his actions.

"I still make pretty good decisions about most things," said Mr. Pyle, a retired aerospace engineer. "But for others, I guess I’m not as sharp as I was before, and people take advantage of that."

Mr. Pyle is part of a growing trend of older Americans filing lawsuits against people and companies they say defrauded them of precious financial resources. Their argument is the same: because they are older they should not be held responsible.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, protecting senior citizens from financial victimization--even when it’s caused by their own mistakes--is now critical. “If we don’t solve this,” said a spokeswoman, "millions of older people will suddenly be reliant on their families or the government."

After Mr. Pyle’s loss, he was forced to move into a small room in his stepdaughter’s house. "I guess I’m just kind of waiting for the end," he said.

But allowing people to void contracts, get refunds, and abdicate responsibility simply because of advanced age is unfair, critics insist. One of the defendants in Mr. Pyle’s lawsuit says "There is no business on earth that can function if its customers can say, ‘I’m tired of abiding by this contract, so I want out because I’m old.’"

Tell us what you think: Is there an age when we should no longer be held responsible for our actions? Should elderly people be exempt from responsibility if they make bad financial decisions?