Proposed law changes an important step in fight against elder abuse

15 June 2017
Maurice Blackburn Lawyers says proposed national law reforms on elder abuse are a significant step forward in the protection of older people from abuse.

The Australian Law Reform Commission has released its report, Elder Abuse – A National Legal Response, today on World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2017.
Maurice Blackburn Wills Principal Andrew Simpson welcomed the Australian Law Reform Commission’s recommendation for a national plan to protect older people from abuse, with recommendations for greater screening of aged care workers in particular a vital measure in helping to stamp out elder abuse.
“We want to make sure we have the right checks in place so that appropriate care workers are looking after older people,” he said.
Mr Simpson also welcomed recommendations around the registration of powers of attorney, greater training for legal professionals in estate planning, and more education for bank employees about identifying and responding to cases of elder abuse.
“Financial abuse is one of the most common forms of elder abuse, yet there is often still not a broad understanding of how easily elder financial abuse can be perpetrated and nor are people properly aware of the tell-tale signs that such abuse may be occurring,” he said.
“Financial abuse tends to occur through the misuse of power by a relative, friend or close acquaintance, which means many people affected by elder financial abuse are reluctant to seek help or take action.
“Such abuse is particularly a risk for vulnerable elderly people who may be incapacitated with respect to their decision-making, or who have a limited support network around them.
“It is vital that all Australians are aware of the key signs of elder abuse so they can take action if a loved one or someone they care for may be at risk, including taking steps to protect the finances of the older person concerned,” he said.
Mr Simpson said ensuring that the right people are appointed as power of attorney was a critical issue in helping to prevent elder financial abuse.
“Your power of attorney has an important role in ensuring your wishes are adhered to and it is vital that you take care in choosing who fills this role to ensure that your finances in particular are protected,” Mr Simpson said.  
“It is also important that people are aware that elder financial abuse can take many forms – including financial manipulation, a transfer or denial of assets or the withholding of income to live comfortably.  Only by recognising these signs and ensuring older people feel safe to seek advice can we hope to properly address elder abuse,” said Mr Simpson.

Five key warning signs of elder financial abuse:

  • Someone close to the older person tries to force changes to a will or other legal document quickly or unexpectedly, without proper consultation.
  • Older individuals expressing fear, anxiety, confusion and loss of trust when discussing finances, assets, property.
  • Unexplained amounts of money missing from bank accounts; a lack of money for day to day items or having unpaid accounts.
  • Older persons frequently changing their mind about their enduring power of attorney.
  • ​Loss of jewellery or personal belongings.

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