“It’s about the money” – spotting the signs of elder abuse

12 June 2015
Using money as a weapon to control older people is a common yet under recognised way older people suffer serious abuse.

Monday 15 June 2015 marks World Elder Abuse Day, with the spotlight on making sure vulnerable older people are not taken advantage of when they are reliant on others for help.

Maurice Blackburn Will disputes principal Andrew Simpson says older people can be left financially destitute by the illegal and unethical actions of those who have control of their finances.

“We can see the scars from physical forms of abuse, yet robbing an older person of their financial security is equally cruel.

“As people live longer, children are waiting longer to inherit their parents’ money and assets. Sometimes, they get impatient,” said Mr Simpson, who is also author of the book, You can’t take it with you, a Plain English Guide to estate planning.

“There are many signs that an older person is being financially manipulated or denied assets or an income to live comfortably.

“What we often see is someone in a nursing home whose bank account is raided by a family member who thinks they can use it as their own. That is just wrong, but it may only come to light when the person has died or when other family members try to buy things for their mum or dad and discover that there is nothing left.

“People must not misuse their power of attorney to transfer money or other assets from elderly people – including property – for their own benefit.

“A lot of this activity is hidden, kept secret within families, unless someone else – perhaps a sibling or another family member – suspects that something is going wrong,” said Mr Simpson.

Other signs of possible financial elder abuse

  • Family members trying to inappropriately influence their parents’ choices including encouraging them to make changes to their Will.
  • Older person frequently changing their mind about their enduring power of attorney.
  • Lack of money for day-to-day items.
  • Loss of jewellery or personal belongings.
  • Older person expressing fear, anxiety or confusion when discussing finances, assets, property.
  • Unexplained amounts of money missing from bank accounts.
  • Unpaid accounts.
  • Loss of trust.

Preventing financial abuse

Care should be taken in appointing a trustworthy person as a power-of-attorney.

Taking extra care to safeguard your finances does not mean that financial abuse will never occur, but it will ensure that an older person’s wishes are clear, and allows for early detection if things are not going well.

What do to if you suspect an older person is being abused in this way

It is possible to apply to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) to revoke someone’s power-of-attorney, and steps can be taken to have misappropriated assets returned.

If you suspect that elder abuse is happening, report it to authorities, or get advice about what legal options are available. There are organisations in each state that can provide assistance.

Alliance for the prevention of elder abuse