Preventing Elder Financial Abuse
Elder financial abuse. Called the “crime of the century,” it involves a broad spectrum of crimes against those aged 65 or older. Some examples of elder financial abuse are:
- Taking money or property from an elderly person
- Forging an elderly person’s signature
- Using an older person’s property or possessions without permission
- Getting an older person to sign over property via a deed, will, trust, or power of attorney, through deception, coercion, or undue influence
The elderly are attractive targets for a variety of reasons. They control the vast majority of the nation’s wealth, yet fail to realize the true value of their assets. They are likely to have disabilities resulting in dependence on others. Predators assume that, because the elderly can be frail, that they will not survive long enough to follow through on legal interventions.
Sadly, many abusers are family members. There are also unscrupulous professionals who may overcharge for products, or who use their positions of trust to gain compliance. Then there are the predators who seek out vulnerable seniors with the intent to exploit them.
Even more sad are the cases where the family is trying to care for their elderly loved one, and because of a lack of legal knowledge, inadvertently commit elder abuse. I have seen this and it is heart-wrenching. In this situation, assets were signed over from the parent to the child as a way of being able to access them and use them for the parent’s benefit. However, because the parent did not have the capacity to understand what they were signing, the actions amounted to elder abuse and when a “not-so-good” child caught wind of it, that child filed an elder abuse action and the care-giving child lost everything.
If you are caring for, or involved with, an elderly person on any level, be on the lookout for some of the signs that elder financial abuse may be occurring, such as:
- Unpaid bills, eviction notices, or notices to discontinue services
- Withdrawals from bank accounts that the older person cannot explain
- New “best friends,” especially those who want to keep you from your loved one
- Legal documents, such as powers of attorney, which the older person did not understand at the time they were signed
If you suspect elder financial abuse, please do not be silent. The National Center on Elder Abuse’s website (http://www.ncea.aoa.gov/Stop_Abuse/Get_Help/State/index.aspx) has links to each state’s resource directory, which will include a Helpline to report suspected elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
If you have access to the financial assets of an elderly person, seek out the advice of an experience probate law attorney so that you don’t fall into the same scenario as the one I described above. The only thing more heart-breaking than caring for a loved one who is losing their capacity to dementia, is doing so and then realizing that you have committed financial elder abuse and are being prosecuted for it.