Elder abuse – know the signs

It’s difficult to hear the older woman sitting across from me as she tells me what’s happened to her.  She looks scared, anxious and confused. I struggle to comprehend how someone could do something so cruel to her – to their own mother.

She quietly explains how she’d made her son her power-of-attorney, trusting that he would look after her financial affairs. She believed him when he said he was would manage the bills for the nursing home care she desperately needed.  Little did she know that her son would spend the next two years siphoning all her money leaving her with no means to pay for the nursing home and an ever-increasing debt. She asks me “is this my fault?” and “should I have seen it coming?”

The answer is no.  It is never acceptable to bully an older person into giving up assets which provide for their most basic of human rights – in this case shelter.

Using money as a weapon to control older people is a common yet under recognised way that older people can suffer serious financial abuse.  As a community it is up to us to make sure vulnerable older people are not taken advantage of.

Older people can be left financially destitute by the illegal and unethical actions of those who have control of their finances. In many cases that we run, such abuse is perpetrated by the person’s own family, a friend or an acquaintance.

As people live longer, children are waiting longer to inherit their parents’ money and assets. Sometimes, they get impatient.

We commonly hear tragic stories of older people being bullied or manipulated into changing their will against their wishes.  Older people are left feeling confused about their rights and can be scared to speak to someone in case it worsens the abuse.  

Sadly, cases of elder abuse aren’t restricted to wills alone.  There are many cases involving people in nursing homes whose bank account may be raided by a family member who thinks they can use it as their own. That’s just wrong, and 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.

If this is happening to you or someone you know I urge people to seek advice to ensure their financial decisions and will remains consistent with their wishes. 

Warning signs of Elder Abuse

We can see the scars from physical abuse, yet robbing an older person of their financial security is equally cruel and often harder to spot.

The following are signs to look out for that may indicate an older person is being financially manipulated or denied assets or an income to live comfortably: 

  • Family members who try to inappropriately influence their parents’ choices including encouraging them to make changes to their will.
  • Older persons 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 a relevant authority 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.

TOPIC: Will disputes
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Andrew Simpson

Maurice Blackburn Melbourne
When it comes to challenging or defending a Will, Andrew Simpson is the lawyer you want fighting for you. He is a Principal and the head of Maurice Blackburn’s national Wills and Estates Law practice, based in Melbourne. Andrew has 20 years’ experience as a lawyer and for the past 18 of these years he has practiced in Wills disputes and estate planning, so he understands the many sides to estate law. Andrew is so passionate about this area of law that in 2012 he wrote the plain English guide to estate planning, You Can’t Take it With You. Andrew works exclusively in Will disputes at Maurice Blackburn, helping clients fight for their rightful entitlements every day. He is a very approachable, compassionate lawyer who has an ability to build an easy rapport with his clients. “My early life as a lawyer was spent assisting clients with estate planning issues,” says Andrew. “This advice often involved advising clients on the extent to which their Will was at risk of a challenge. I developed a deep understanding of the issues that gave rise to a right to challenge a Will. I then began assisting people who were unfairly treated by being cut out of the Will or getting a smaller benefit than they believed was owed to them. “The most rewarding part of working in Will disputes is being able to help people obtain access to estate funds in circumstances where they are in financial need. This is life changing for most clients.” Andrew holds Bachelor degrees in Arts and Law, and a Masters in Law. He was awarded the Churchill Fellowship in 2004, and visited Canada, the United States and the UK to examine international approaches to estate planning and elder law. “I am driven because I know that I can use the law to significantly improve a client’s quality of life,” says Andrew. Accreditations & Memberships Law Institute of Victoria member Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners member ...

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