Can We Protect Our Seniors? The Problem of Elder Financial Abuse

In 2011, an elderly gentleman went to the US Senate to testify against elder abuse. He was only one of many seniors who experienced financial and psychological abuse from their caregivers, especially family members. But this gentleman was no ordinary man. He was Hollywood actor Mickey Rooney.

Rooney’s testimony to the US Special Senate Committee on Aging helped families and estate lawyers understand the difficulties many seniors face, especially when their abusers are family members or caregivers. Elder financial abuse involves stealing an older person’s money, befriending them for financial gain or having them alter their will to obtain the assets. Many seniors are sometimes coerced or fooled to agree to the abuser’s conditions. If will fraud is suspected, an estate litigation lawyer can help them regain their money.

Seniors are the most frequently targeted group when it comes to financial abuse. Frailty, cognitive decline, dependency on others and their accumulated wealth over a lifetime make them an easy target and puts them at risk. 6.6 percent of America’s elderly population have become victims of financial abuse.

Millions Lost to Financial Abuse

Retired couple victim of financial abuseWhile no one knows the true extent of the problem, data from the state of New York in the United States shows that victims suffer $109 million of losses every year. The problem ranges from caregivers or relatives helping themselves to change from their wallet to persuading them to alter their will.

If you suspect that a family member is experiencing financial elder abuse, you should know the warning signs. Here are the most common:

1. Unpaid bills, despite the person previously keeping up-to-date with payments.

2. Unexpected changes to bank accounts or sudden withdrawals of larger sums of money.

3. Additional names added to the bank account.

4. Disappearance of possessions such as gadgets, appliances, silverware or jewellery.

5. The senior in question may seem to be more forgetful. They may also appear unkempt, uncared for and not wearing the appropriate clothing. They could also stop doing the hobbies they previously enjoyed.

6. Isolation of the senior from family or friends. If there are previously uninvolved relatives or strangers claiming their assets, it’s best to check if there is abuse involved.

7. Sudden changes to the will, or the establishment of a new will.

8. Signatures on legal papers or checks that do not look authentic.

Legal Help is Available

Many countries, including Canada, now recognize World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, in the hope to increase awareness of elder abuse, whether it is psychological, physical or financial. Many lawyers and physicians acknowledge there is still a lot that needs to be done, but many countries and state law enforcers now conduct training for doctors, law enforcement officials, social workers, and court personnel on identifying elderly abuse and how to respond and handle cases properly.

Mickey Rooney was able to reclaim millions of dollars that his stepson had stolen from him, and the court assigned a conservator to manage his affairs. Your family may not have Rooney’s influence, but you could still protect your elderly relative from abuse. If you feel that they have been forced to change their will, you should consult an estate litigation lawyer so they can help argue their case and reclaim assets that are rightfully theirs.