Older adults are at high risk for financial abuse. This all-too-common problem can create severe financial stress for elderly adults and hurt the families and caretakers caring for them. Legally, it is defined as the fraudulent or illegal, unauthorized, or improper act someone takes that uses an older individual’s resources for the person’s benefit, even if that person is a caregiver or fiduciary for the older adult.
Elder financial abuse can come from outside sources, such as scammers who target seniors or family members close to the individual twisting power of attorney documents and other estate planning documents to swindle money away from the individual. If left unchecked, these scams can cause an older person to lose everything they have worked a lifetime to achieve, including their home, retirement savings, and inheritance they were planning to leave to loved ones. Understanding elder financial abuse and how to spot it is crucial for families who wish to keep their loved ones financially secure.
Older Americans are targets of fraud and financial abuse because the cognitive decline is common as people age. This can make it challenging to understand what is going on in the world. Older Americans often fall behind on changing laws and technology, making them vulnerable to computer-based scams. Finally, many older adults are more trusting than younger people, making them easily manipulated in these types of scams.
Sometimes, those guilty of elder abuse assume that the elderly person does not have the legal knowledge or physical energy to pursue legal action against them, making it easier for them to jump into fraudulent or abusive behavior. Since many elderly adults are physically weak or debilitated, they may not stop these actions from occurring. If the perpetrator is a family member, they may avoid bringing attention to the problem to protect their loved one.
Some actions are abusive and fraudulent. For example, stealing money directly from an older adult or forging an elderly person’s signature on checks or other documents is an excellent example of fraud. Using false pretenses or deception to take finances or control over finances from an elderly person is another example. This is sometimes seen in telemarketing scams that produce a deception or exaggerated claim to get the elderly individual to send money.
Other actions also fall under the category of elder financial abuse, but they are less blatant. Some of these might include:
Except for theft, these can seem more innocent than actual fraud, but they are still considered elder financial abuse.
While telephone and email scams target elderly individuals, the most common source of these crimes is someone related to the older person. Family members may have negative feelings toward their siblings that cause them to try to steal inheritance or feel as though they have a right to the elderly individual’s belongings. Sometimes, financial difficulties can cause family members to turn anywhere for help, and an elderly loved one with financial resources is an easy target. Knowing who is caring for an elderly loved one, and placing protections to avoid these types of fraudulent actions, is vital.
Noticing signs of financial abuse is the best way to protect elderly adults from this common crime. Symptoms may include an unusual attachment to the individual, unexplained withdrawals or canceled checks, or lack of knowledge of where the money went. At the first sign of these issues, concerned family members should take action, enlisting the help of an attorney to investigate the case. Also, ensuring proper end-of-life documents are in place, again with an attorney’s help to make them legally binding, helps protect elderly individuals from financial abuse.
Heban, Murphree & Lewandowski LLC is ready to assist. Whether you are an older individual looking for protection or are a family member with an elderly loved one you wish to protect, let our legal team come alongside you and provide guidance.