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Elder Financial Abuse – identifying and proving financial elder abuse

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The identification and proving of elder financial abuse is unfortunately an area of law that we are dealing with more regularly. In this article we cover what elder financial abuse is, the warning signs of elder financial abuse and what to do if you or someone you know is experiencing this abuse.

What is elder financial abuse?

Elder financial abuse is the illegal or improper use or mismanagement of an older person’s finances.

Examples might include:

  • stealing, misusing, or redirecting money or possessions
  • controlling finances without permission or to an extent greater than that which is required or desired by the older person 
  • exercising coercive control in relation to expenditure
  • applying pressure to an older person to grant a Power of Attorney, to make or change a Will, to give or guarantee a loan
  • misusing a power of attorney for personal gain
  • pressuring an older person for an early inheritance or gift
  • moving into the home of an older person without their consent and failing to contribute to household costs.

Who is at risk of elder financial abuse?

Elder abuse occurs when someone that an older person knows and trusts causes them harm. Elder abuse is most commonly performed upon the older person by a family member but abusers can also be friends, carers (professional or otherwise), neighbours, or sadly, sometimes even professional advisors or medical practitioners.

Risk factors for elder financial abuse include where:

  • the older person is dependent on someone else for care
  • the carer or family member:
    • finds it stressful looking after the older person 
    • resents having to look after the older person 
    • is experiencing other types of stress, such as financial troubles 
    • does not have enough support or respite
  • there is a history of family violence within the family
  • the carer or family member and the older person have different cultural values
  • the older person is socially isolated
  • the older person lives in a regional or remote community
  • the older person was an abusive parent towards their adult child
  • the carer or family member or the older person (or both) has a mental health condition 
  • the carer or family member or the older person (or both) has a substance abuse (alcohol or other drugs) problem.

Warning signs of elder financial abuse

Elder abuse can be difficult to identify. The victim of the abuse may not identify what is happening to them as abuse, or they may be reluctant to cause trouble for their family member or loved one, who may be the abuser. 

Common signs that elder financial abuse is being perpetrated may include:

  • missing belongings
  • the older person is unable to find the money for basics such as food, clothing, transport costs and bills
  • there have been large withdrawals or big changes in banking habits or activities, such as unusual credit card use
  • an unwarranted loss of control on the part of the older person, such as no longer being in possession of their own keycards, PIN numbers, or credit cards, or bank statements being redirected
  • a sudden transfer of assets that is inexplicable or performed at a time when the older person may no longer be competent to manage their own affairs
  • the older person does not know or understand their own financial situation
  • the older person cannot offer explanations or offers implausible explanations for the disappearance of financial resources
  • the older person is showing signs of fear, stress or anxiety.

Preventing abuse

The first step in preventing elder abuse is to ensure that the older person’s financial affairs are in order before they become vulnerable. Our lawyers can provide advice on accommodation options for elderly persons including residential aged care, granny flat agreements and moving in with a family member. We can also advise how financial contributions from an elder person to a carer should be structured and documented.

DDCS Lawyers can also provide expert advice about appointing an Enduring Power of Attorney in case you lose the ability to make decisions for yourself due to accident, poor health or advanced age. Being prepared and having an expertly prepared Enduring Power of Attorney also alleviates the burden for your family members or carers in obtaining legal authority, should you require assistance with managing your affairs in the future.

I suspect elder financial abuse. What can I do?

The abuse of our elderly is a serious family violence issue in our community. As many elderly people are vulnerable and at times isolated, it is imperative that people understand the legal assistance available. Our firm has lawyers that specialise specifically in this area and sensitively understand the challenges surrounding the issue. The team at DDCS can assist you with a range of legal services from listening to your concerns and advising you in relation to warning signs and whether it seems likely that financial elder abuse is taking place, through to acting for you in relationship to legal proceedings such as guardianship and financial management proceedings in the ACT Civil and Administrative Tribunal. 

Otherwise, there are a range of public resources available to assist you or if you suspect that someone you know is suffering from financial elder abuse:

ACT Disability, Aged and Carer Advocacy Service

ADACAS provides free, independent advocacy and information for people with disabilities, older people and their carers in the ACT.

www.adacas.org.au 02 6242 5060

Aged Care Complaints Commissioner

Provides a free service for anyone to raise their concerns about the quality of care or services being delivered to people receiving aged care services subsidised by the Australian Government.

www.agedcarequality.gov.au/making-complaint 1800 550 552

Council on the Ageing — ACT

COTA ACT is the peak non-government organisation concerned with all issues related to ageing in the ACT.

www.cotaact.org.au 6282 3777

ACT Policing

24-hour emergency response 000

24-hour assistance line 131 444

Crime Stoppers 1800 333 000

General enquiries 6256 7777

Whether you are the person at risk or experiencing financial abuse or you are concerned about someone else, you are welcome to confidentially discuss those concerns with us. Phone our team on (02) 62127600 or fill in the contact us form and our team will be in touch.

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