I recently had an opportunity to listen to a presentation by Laura Tamblyn Watts, senior fellow and staff lawyer at the Canadian Centre for Elder Law, which was about understanding financial abuse in older clients. During her presentation, she made some very good points to keep in mind when trying to determine if an older adult is being taken advantage of.
By definition, elder abuse is a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. However, the Centre for Research & Education on Violence Against Women and Children has recently developed a plain language definition of senior abuse, which is noted as:
“The older adults are unable to freely make choices because they are afraid of being hurt, humiliated, left alone or of the relationship ending. Abuse is different from situations where two people are in conflict with each other. These people may do things to hurt each other, and fights can escalate to violence. However, both people have power in the relationship …. It is abuse when one person uses their power or influence to take advantage of, or to control, the older adult.”
Elder abuse is an action or inaction by an individual or system that results in harm to an older person. Ms. Tamblyn Watts reminded us that the reason why older adults are at a high risk of abuse is because they are unable to call for help, they are dependent on others to provide them with help, many strangers who are providing the older adult with help have access to their homes, and, often times, the older adult is not believed when they try to talk about the abuse.
When an older adult is being financially abused, these situations can occur through:
- Monetary gifts that are involuntary;
- Misuse of a credit card or a bank card by a friend or family member who had been given access to the PIN number in order to assist the older person with specific activities;
- Misuse of funds in a joint bank account that was created to allow another person to assist the senior with financial transactions;
- Cashing in investments without permission;
- Private care arrangements whereby a senior transfers title of property in exchange of anticipated care that is not provided;
- Forcing a senior to sign over their home or vehicle; or
- Predatory marriages.
Some indicators of financial abuse are:
- Unpaid bills or no money for basic necessities;
- Absence of aid or medications;
- Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives;
- Forged signatures, or powers of attorney granted under unusual circumstances
- Adult complaining of not knowing where money or their assets have gone;
- Abrupt changes in their Will or their bank accounts; or
- A family member or representative refusing to spend money on the adult’s behalf.
If you suspect that an older adult is being financially abused, then contact our Wills and Estates Group for more information.