Protecting Our Seniors: Understanding and Preventing Elder Financial Abuse

Older people can be particularly susceptible to financial exploitation. We look at the forms it can take and some of the steps that can be taken to safeguard vulnerable individuals and prevent elder financial abuse.

Alarmingly, elder financial abuse can take many forms, from petty theft to defrauding someone of large sums of money. Older people are potentially more vulnerable, as they may be dependent on others. Importantly, they may have substantial assets, be lonely or isolated and not fully understand what is happening.

Types of elder financial abuse

Some common types of financial abuse of the elderly include:

  • Items or cash taken from someone’s home by visitors or relatives
  • Undue influence being exerted over an individual by someone in a position of trust, persuading them to act in a way that is not in their best interests
  • Persuasion to pay for work and repairs that are not needed
  • An acting attorney under a Lasting Power of Attorney could fail to act in the individual’s best interests
  • Pensions or other benefits being taken
  • Money removed from cashpoints
  • Persuasion by someone hoping to inherit not to spend their money on things they might need, such as care or home help, to preserve their estate
Spotting financial abuse

Keeping an eye on older friends and relatives, means you can spot the signs when something is wrong. Examples include:

  • Unpaid bills
  • Unexpected work being carried out at the property
  • Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts
  • Change in the amount of weekly or monthly expenditure
  • A new person in someone’s life taking a very close interest in their affairs
  • The reappearance of relatives who have not been in the person’s life for a while
  • The individual does not appear to have adequate money for their needs although they should be able to afford them
  • Disappearance of valuables or cash from the person’s home
  • Isolation of the individual from their friends and family
  • Abuse of power, from an attorney or deputy appointed to manage the person’s affairs
  • A sudden change made to a Will

An older person suffering financial exploitation may exhibit certain warning signs. They may become withdrawn or reluctant to discuss certain people or money matters. As a result, they might lose their self-confidence and become more isolated.

Financial exploitation can also manifest in their living conditions. They may be left short of money or made to feel guilty about spending it. Consequently, they could have little food in the house or neglect basic needs like heating.  The risk factors are particularly concerning for those living alone. This isolation can make them more vulnerable. Furthermore, if they are in poor health or reliant on external services, their dependence creates additional opportunities for exploitation.

Protecting older people from financial abuse

Are you a regular visitor in an older person’s life? Keep a watchful eye for any unusual changes in their behaviour or finances. While they absolutely have the right to privacy, don’t hesitate to gently discuss any issues that worry you.

If you have strong suspicions something is wrong, then report it to the police. If the suspected abuser is someone managing their affairs, like an attorney or deputy, you can take action. Apply to the Court of Protection to revoke the Lasting Power of Attorney or remove the deputy.

Prevention is key to protecting older adults. Ensure they have adequate support and their affairs are structured securely.  Always consult a legal professional. They can advise on ways to best protect their assets. This might involve appointing multiple attorneys for the Lasting Power of Attorney. Remember, you have the power to remove an attorney or deputy who isn’t acting in their best interests.

Also review their Will. Make sure it reflects their true wishes and hasn’t been influenced by anyone else.

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