How To Put An End To Financial Elder Abuse

Posted on April 23, 2015 and updated April 23, 2015 in Life Insurance Canada News 6 min read
Financial Elder Abuse

Due to their age and declining cognitive abilities, senior citizens are often left vulnerable to abuse in our society. While physical elder abuse is a widely discussed issue, another major form of elder abuse often goes unreported: financial abuse.

What is financial elder abuse?

In a nutshell, financial elder abuse refers to the theft, manipulation or exploitation of a senior citizen’s assets for personal gains.

Let’s take a look at some examples of how elders are financially abused…

  • Having money, property or other assets stolen
  • Being deceived or manipulated into signing a will, deed or granting someone else power of attorney
  • Paying money for services and then not receiving those services
  • Being forcibly sold goods or services that the senior does not want or need
  • Being forced by someone else to seek employment and earn money even after retirement
  • Pressured to invest money in risky ventures and take out loans.

Who Is Responsible?

Senior citizens are most at risk of being financially abused by relatives, caretakers and salespeople.

Because of family ties, relatives often have a position of power and influence over an elderly person. This power and influence is then used by a relative to exploit an elder’s trust and financially abuse them. For example, an elder’s relative asks for a loan and then never repays the money. Some children of seniors can also financially abuse their parents by asking for money and other financial favours. They also discourage their parents from spending any money (since these children consider their parents’ money to be their future inheritance).

Caretakers often have complete access to an elder person’s property and can easily learn where valuables such as cash or jewellery are kept.

Many elders also tend to live alone and don’t take regular inventory of their belongings. This leaves them vulnerable to theft from caretakers and personal attendants.

Salespeople often take advantage of an elder’s declining cognitive abilities and manipulate them into buying unnecessary items or services at extravagant prices. Seniors are also often sucked into scams (pyramid schemes, fake lottery tickets and etc.) by these people. Door to door salespersons and telemarketers are the most common culprits.

Recognizing Financial Elder Abuse

While we’ve discussed some examples of financial elder abuse, it’s important to recognize how it can take place. There are several telltale signs which can indicate that you or your loved one has been or is still being financially abused. Let’s take a look at some ways we can recognize financial elder abuse.

  • Unexplained and sudden withdrawals from bank accounts that the elder does not remember making
  • The elder is manipulated into giving out generous loans that are not being repaid
  • Falling behind on payments and bills not being paid on time despite prior arrangements
  • Poor living conditions in comparison with the elder’s assets and net worth
  • Somebody else taking complete control of the elder’s spending 
  • Bank statements and other financial documents no longer coming to the elder’s home
  • The elder is keeping company or associating with new “friends”, “attendants” or “agents”
  • Sudden changes being made to the elder’s legal documents
  • Personal belongings and valuables going missing
  • Checks authorizing the transfer of funds from the elder’s bank account being made out to unknown individuals or companies.

Preventing Financial Elder Abuse

If you or a loved one has been subjected to financial elder abuse, then it’s important that you immediately take these steps to prevent it from continuing.

1. Keep your financial documents and personal information in a safe place. If you suspect that your home is compromised and any documents won’t be safe there, consider entrusting them to a financial advisor or a bank.

2. If you are not getting monthly bank statements highlighting all activity in your bank account, call your bank and ask it to mail statements to your current address.

3. Track all of your legal documents such as wills, property and vehicle ownership papers. Call your lawyer and routinely check on these documents and make sure that no one has been tampering with them.

4. If you keep valuables such as money or jewellery in your home, take a regular inventory just to make sure that everything is in order. This should especially be the case if you’ve employed a caretaker who spends a significant amount of time in your home.

5. Read any contracts carefully. Ask for explanations if you don’t understand any section of a contract. Follow this procedure for any other document you’re asked to sign to well.

6. Never share personal information such as your credit card number, social security number and banking information on the phone or through email. Scam artists often pose as bank employees or legal services workers and ask for this sensitive information.

7. Remember that help can often just be a call away. If you feel that you or a loved one is being subjected to financial abuse, tell a qualified professional equipped to handle these problems. This can be a social services worker, financial advisor or lawyer. In the worst-case scenario where immediate action is needed, don’t hesitate to call the local authorities.

Plan Your Estate In Advance

With financial elder abuse becoming so widespread in our society, it’s more important than ever for senior citizens to plan their estates in advance.

As mentioned above, seniors become more vulnerable to financial abuse as they grow older and lose some of their cognitive abilities required to make informed decisions. Not having their financial affairs in order before they reach that stage could be detrimental for both the elder and their families.

It goes without saying that important legal documents such as wills should be drafted as early as possible and updated to reflect any recent financial developments in the elder’s estate.

It’s also important that an elder grants power of attorney of their estate to trustworthy and capable people who will properly manage the elder’s affairs in the future. This should be done in advance while the elder still retains full mental capacity.

Financial elder abuse is a serious problem. But, as outlined above, there are several steps we can take to prevent this from happening to ourselves or our loved ones.

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