Elder abuse and litigation expert Charlie Young outlines the steps you may need to take if you suspect a person to be a victim of financial abuse.
Financial abuse may not leave a physical mark, but it can undeniably affect the victim for the rest of his or her life and break a family unit.
While this kind of exploitation can happen regardless of age or economic situation, it is reportedly the most common form of abuse experienced by elderly people, according to Australian Institute of Family Studies.
This type of abuse is increasing and the ageing baby boomer generation is the most vulnerable.
As people age, many of them sensibly create a power of attorney in preparation for when they will require assistance to manage their finances.
Unfortunately, one of the main culprits of this kind of abuse are the attorneys who have been chosen by the victims themselves, often their own children or someone they have known for many years and trust enough to ensure them with responsibility for their finances.
Knowing what to look for is important because financial abuse is not always immediately obvious. Often, it can take place through countless smaller transactions, but the most important thing is to trust your gut – if you are suspicious, you probably have reason to be.
So what is the best course of action if you believe someone is a victim of financial abuse?
Speak to the victim
Discuss the situation with the victim and attempt to find out who is responsible for the abuse, gauge the extent of the abuse and which assets have been affected. Is the person consenting to it for any particular reason? Is the person dependent on the abuser, for example, for ongoing care?
Carefully consider whether you believe the person fully grasps what is happening. The answers to these questions may very well affect what you should do next.
Consider communicating with the perpetrator
Sometimes, but certainly not always, it might be appropriate to communicate with the perpetrator as in some cases there may be a good explanation for why it is taking place.
When you try to speak about the financial issues with the alleged offender, monitor their reaction. Are they vague, do they become aggressive or suggest that you wouldn’t understand such matters, for example? Do they have a history of gambling, making poor decisions or have difficulty paying their own debts?
Use your discretion here, as you must be careful to take into account the wellbeing of the person who it appears is being abused. You want to ensure they have support systems in place before raising the issue with others, otherwise you could leave them stranded without any support.
Always approach the conversation delicately while making it clear you have the victim’s best interests at heart with no ulterior motives.
Contact anyone who might also be innocently involved
An example of this could be the older person’s financial institution, that is, their bank. Flagging the potential issue with interested parties may allow you to limit the extent of any damage suffered. Again, use your discretion and consider how this might affect the person’s support systems.
Take legal action, if necessary
If, after communication with either party, you remain suspicious or financial abuse has been confirmed, it may be extremely important to take immediate action to limit any further damage.
If you believe the victim has an illness, such as dementia, seek immediate legal advice as you might need to urgently apply for an administrator to be appointed to take over the person’s financial affairs. Proceedings may also need to be taken, for example, to freeze the victim’s bank account, recover stolen assets or have a contract reversed.
A lawyer with expertise in elder abuse will guide you through this process and can help to recover assets, though recovery can never be guaranteed.
Charlie Young is an elder abuse and litigation expert at Bennett & Philp, a provider of solutions-focused legal services to corporations, business and individuals.
Have you come across elder abuse? Do you believe there are more safeguards now than in years past?