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.
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:
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.
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.
Our experienced wills and estates lawyers are here to help - everything from getting your own affairs in order, to administering a Will when you're an executor, to challenging a Will.
Our Canberra office is now closed, but our team continues to serve ACT clients and are available for phone and video appointments. If you need legal advice, please call us on 1800 675 346.
We have lawyers who specialise in a range of legal claims who travel to Tasmania. If you need a lawyer in Hobart, Launceston or elsewhere in Tasmania, please call us on 1800 675 346.