What is Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse can take a number of different forms. It can be conducted by scam artists and thieves, who prey upon the vulnerable members of society, including people in elder homes. Financial abuse can also come from people who work with this vulnerable population. Nursing home workers who use their jobs as a way to gain confidence and then steal money or valuables from their patients.
It’s also possible for the family to financially abuse their loved ones. This could be by taking money from their elderly relatives, or by simply neglecting to pay bills or properly maintain their family member’s standard of living.
Easy Steps to Preventing Financial Abuse
Perhaps the most important way to get ahead of financial abuse is to be open and honest about money discussions. Too often, we treat personal finances as a private matter, but they don’t need to be. Instead, it’s far better to put things out in the open, which can make it easier to discuss concerns as they come up.
It’s also far easier to catch and stop the financial abuse of seniors if the paperwork is in order. Thieves and abusers can get away with stealing money if nobody knows how much money is there in the first place. If your papers are in order, it’s far easier to catch a suspicious transaction on a monthly credit card statement or to notice a strange ATM charge.
Utilizing Powers of Attorney to Your Advantage
As a long term way to protect yourself from financial abuse, you should create the power of attorney documents as part of your overall estate plan. A financial power of attorney will give your designated agent authority to handle all of your monetary affairs, including:
- Depositing and withdrawing money from your bank account,
- Managing your investment and retirement accounts, including your 401(k) and pension funds,
- Maintaining any real property you own, such as hiring landscapers to mow the grass or roofers to fix leaks, and
- Buying, renting, or selling property, including the family home, without your permission.
If it’s difficult to get out of the house, it can be incredibly useful to have a financial planner for you, sit on hold with the bank, and make sure that things get paid in a timely fashion. For some seniors, this is even a necessity, as diagnoses such as Alzheimer’s and dementia may make it impossible to take care of themselves alone.
Having someone handle these for you is an important part of ensuring that you can spend the rest of your life comfortably. Without a designated agent, it can be much harder for your family to care for you. You’ll have a gatekeeper whose job is to look out for your financial wellbeing.
Choose Your Agent Carefully!
However, it is extremely important that you choose your financial agent carefully. As you can see, the powers granted in a financial power of attorney can lead to abuse if you do not choose carefully.
Although your financial agent is legally required to act in your best interests, there is little oversight into the practice. Seniors suffering financial abuse by their financial agents are notoriously hard to discover and prosecute. So it’s far better to select a capable agent at the outset. There are incredibly sad stories about parents whose children are able to sell their house from under them, once the power of attorney is in place.
Seniors often choose their adult children to act as their financial agents. You should choose people who have a good sense of money and are logical. Picking one child over another doesn’t mean that you don’t love your children equally. It means that you are making a rational choice about who will be the best person to care for your financial well-being.
It’s a good idea to discuss this choice in advance. Your children understand their responsibilities and have the opportunity to ask questions ahead of time. It’s also a good idea to have one or more “backup” financial agents who can take over. if and when your initial agent is unwilling or unable to complete their duties.
By choosing a proper, responsible financial agent, you can help prevent senior financial abuse.
It Takes a Village
Unfortunately, senior financial abuse is not always something that our abused elders can notice and tackle on their own. Oftentimes, it’s an outside third party who notices that something is amiss. If your loved one is elderly, keep an eye out for signs of financial abuse, which can include:
- Transfers of strange funds in large amounts to unknown accounts,
- Suspicious credit card transactions or ATM withdrawals
- Disappearances of money from bank accounts, or valuable personal property, and
- Changes to wills or other financial documents, especially if they are in favor of nursing home workers or caretakers.
If you suspect someone is being financially abused, talk to that person in a non-judgmental way, if everything is ok. Try to find out what’s happening – maybe they have a new licensed financial advisor who is helping them to make new decisions, or maybe there were unexpected expenses that popped up. If they are being taken advantage of, you can contact your local Adult Protective Services to report the abuse and get the help you need.
Financial abuse is just one aspect of elder abuse, which can also include neglect, as well as physical or emotional abuse. It’s important to be on the lookout for symptoms, to ensure that your loved ones are cared for in their golden years.
Matt Freeman is the managing partner of the Law Offices of Freeman and Freeman, headquartered in Santa Rosa, California. He has spent more than 20 years as a trial attorney. His firm regularly represents clients in cases involving bullying, nursing home abuse, and other personal injury matters across the state.