Senior moments

We're going to be seeing a lot more stories like this as the Baby Boomers age:

Mr. Pyle’s suit contends that mortgage brokers and banks defrauded him by helping him take out loans they knew he could not afford, and that the person who bought his house deceived him by paying far less than its market value.

Such theories have yet to be fully tested in court. And because many cases settle before they go to trial, in part because companies often assume juries will side with older victims, there is little precedent for how the laws should be interpreted.

As growing numbers of elderly consumers begin citing such legislation to undo contracts or get refunds, some companies and executives are warning of possible repercussions.

“Either someone has the mental capacity to make a decision, and therefore live with the consequences, or they don’t, in which case they shouldn’t be managing their own finances,” said Terry J. Dyer, president of Jett Financial Services, a defendant in Mr. Pyle’s suit. Mr. Dyer said his company, which helped Mr. Pyle refinance his home, did nothing wrong.

“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,’” he added.

For his part, Mr. Pyle wants to have it both ways — protection when he makes mistakes, and the right to make all his own decisions.

“It would be complete overkill to take away my independence,” Mr. Pyle said. “So I made a few mistakes. Twenty-five-year-olds make mistakes all the time, but they don’t lose their right to make decisions. I helped build this country. I deserve more dignity that that.”

Seniors are extremely vulnerable: they are often lonely, their mental facilities may be slipping somewhat, and they have large stocks of cash for con artists to loot. Mr Pyle was taken advantage of by a woman who sounds like a vile, vile human being; she played on his loneliness to get him to give her huge sums of money. Ultimately, he lost his house. To a greater or lesser extent, this is played out all over America every day.

But as the article makes clear, his problem wasn't that creditors improperly disclosed the terms of the loans; it was that he borrowed too much money. In effect, his lawsuit argues that he is not capable of making good decisions about his finances, and says the lenders should have done so for him.

If this sort of lawsuit is upheld, seniors will find it much more difficult to get credit, or indeed to enter into any sort of financial transaction. Businesses will not do business with people who can shed their contracts simply by declaring that they were, in retrospect, too old to make an informed decision. As the article notes, Mr Pyle wants to have it both ways: he wants the court to declare him too dimwitted to be responsible for his financial choices--but to leave him in charge of his own finances.