More protection needed for vulnerable elderly people

Could you actually be giving someone the green light to steal your savings?

More protection needed for vulnerable elderly people

We’re all told how important it is to have an enduring power of attorney as we get older, but by signing one, could you actually be giving someone the green light to steal your savings?

According to the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC), an enduring power of attorney is being used by some as a “licence to steal”. It recommends that a national register of people holding such authority be established to stop adult children driven by greed helping themselves to their parents’ savings.

Under the current system, there is no verification of withdrawals or transfers supposedly made on behalf of an elderly person.

In the discussion paper, to be released by the ALRC today, it is also suggested that there is a growing sense of “early inheritance syndrome”, where adult children are keen to receive money from their parents before they die. This is considered a form of financial abuse.

Speaking to the ABC, ALRC President, Rosalind Croucher said, "People describe powers of attorney as a licence to steal. 

"And there might be multiple powers of attorney. There's an uncertainty as to which one is the right one, which one is the most recent, and which is the valid one."

Professor Croucher also suggested that, to stop instances of coercion when an enduring power of attorney is signed, two officials, i.e. a member of the police force, lawyer or doctor should be present.

The inquiry from which the discussion paper has resulted was commissioned by Attorney-General George Brandis in February following reports of abuse of elderly people by those who are supposed to have their best interests at heart. This includes psychological, financial and physical abuse.

If accepted, the new proposals would require a provision for two people to approve access to a person’s bank account. It has also been recommended that those who are bankrupt, prohibited from directing a company or have a criminal record of fraud or dishonesty, would be prohibited from acting as enduring power of attorney.

What do you think? Is an enduring power of attorney likely to result in adult children stealing money from parents? Should we have tighter checks and procedures for those granted an enduring power of attorney? Do you have someone you can trust to be your enduring power of attorney or would reports of abuse discourage?

Find our more about the inquiry at
Listen to Professor Crouch’s speech on protecting the rights of older Australians 



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    12th Dec 2016
    Elder abuse, whether it is financial, emotional or physical is a crime and should be treated as such, but it rarely is. The people we trust, children, carers, doctors, nurses and lawyers have used their power of attorney to steal from the vulnerable. On the other hand most do not. Some of the safeguards recommended in reports are very cumbersome. Yes having two people sign for the release of money may provide some protection but it may be very expensive and anyway the occasional lawyer etc may be the one stealing. I had sole power of attorney for my mum and my children have it for me. Of course we need protection if we can't manage our own affairs but these may be relatively simple. I filed all bank statements and receipts and sent them to my brother and gave copies to my mum. The nursing home sent an account every month and if some reason I didn't pay my brother and I were reminded very quickly. He would have known if I was stealing fairly quickly but he lives in France, travels a lot and getting his signature would have taken a long time. One signature allowed me to pay for dentists, buy a little TV, hair cuts and other items in a timely way.
    12th Dec 2016
    I think this is sound legislation but it is only one half of the coin.
    The other half is parents who lose their minds and start listening to screwy radio broadcasts from other screwy old folk and then leave their money to complete strangers or people who have spotted an opportunity and come in late in the piece to cash in.
    You think there are not a lot of the above around? There are.......and the existing laws do nothing to protect genuine family who are often discarded as the new friend crosses all the t's and dots all the i's to push family members out.
    It is a disgrace that governments stand back and do nothing. As with most crime those who we elect appear to be inactive until they are stung. That is not government but seems to be the way things work.
    12th Dec 2016
    Yep - and the mailbox and door knockers. Its so tricky.
    12th Dec 2016
    Something most definitely is needed. Sadly for all the honest family members trying to be a carer this will be expensive and bureaucratically difficult. I would start by insisting that anyone being signed as a power of attorney must complete a short course on what they may and may not do. I like the idea of a second signature however somehow the banks don't seem to care - one signature is fine(despite what it says on the power of attorney) ...and they don't check - and of course once one person has the PIN and online passwords then there are no checks and balances and the banks accept no responsibility.
    Its hard to double check on the one who inevitably "takes charge" too. Its amazing how money transactions seem to be hidden or shrugged off in a Trump hand wave and without lawyering up or starting a family feud its all blind trust.
    12th Dec 2016
    "Trump" - Is Don. is Good.
    12th Dec 2016
    My brother and sister tried to take all my mother's house money when she went into care. I had to take them to the State Administrative Tribunal to have the EPA revoked. I hasten to add they are both millionaires and I am not!! Greedy.

    12th Dec 2016
    This criminal government is stealing your savings every day with their altered legislation on pensions. A will or correct power of attorney is of no value if your have nothing in your "kick" when the pilfering politicians are finished with you.
    12th Dec 2016
    OOOOOW ! Doze Russians !! :-( :-(
    12th Dec 2016
    No, you must be having another of your "turns". I am not talking about the grobe-trotting grandma. I am referring to Australian politicians. You may have missed your medication this morning.

    12th Dec 2016
    Where children are doing it to their parents it is called Early Inheritance Syndrome....the sods cannot wait to get their hands on what they perceive as their future money.

    As I have said before do not think it cannot happen to you. Be very careful to whom you give a Power of Attorney.

    Legislation is long overdue to protect the elderly from financial and emotional abuse; seen it happen firsthand people be warned!!!
    12th Dec 2016
    I also add people living on their own are vulnerable to the vultures who come to the door...get inside and do a number of friendly visits (under the religious umbrella) and end up getting bequests.

    One they know they have managed to get this written into a Will they are rarely seen again.

    I know all about this as well!!
    12th Dec 2016
    As I am about to sign an enduring power of attorney with my son acting for me when I am no longer capable, I am very in favor of some form of regulation on these matters. Though I trust my son to always act in my best interest, I am also aware that many people have been caught out by their trusting nature and the tragedy of loss not only of finances but also of family relationships.
    12th Dec 2016
    I cant trust any of my Rellies :-( They are all Judges, Lawyers, Polly's and Used Car Sales people :-( :-(
    13th Dec 2016
    I had a think about this overnight. Double signatures don't work from experience. Lawyers and trusts are very expensive and day to day bills need quick action or its the carer who ends up out of pocket. However, if the bank statements and accounts must be checked by a third party accountant periodically it may stop "the dipping in the til". If the person with the power of attorney doesn't comply with being checked then their powers are revoked and in severe cases of abuse, charged with theft.
    13th Dec 2016
    The proposal to create a register for Powers of Attorney will not stop financial elder abuse. My car is registered but it doesn't stop me breaking the law when I drive it. I agree that elder abuse, whether it is financial, emotional or physical is a crime. The reforms should introduce hefty fines and goal sentences as a deterrent. Even when caught current offenders more often than not escape any penalty. Until there are serious consequences for misuse of these documents the greedy have a licence to thieve. As for emotional and physical abuse - again let the punishment fit the crime and fund the police to have special units to deal with elder abuse - its growth warrants the cost.
    13th Dec 2016
    Not only a stiff sentence but restitution of all monies including interest and all associated cost in recovery of the stolen monies. monies to be recovered from all parties who have benefitted from this. that will include spouses as well.
    14th Dec 2016
    Agree but in my experience (40 years as a lawyer) the type of people who do this often waste away the money as quickly as they steal it. If they acquire assets then there are already laws that enable recovery. The problem is the cost of access to justice. Many elder people don't have the funds to run the necessary claim and often don't want to sue a family member even though they have been fraudulent. Overcoming these barriers is an added complication in addressing remedies for elder abuse.