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Tips to protect yourself from elder abuse

An elderly couple reviewing documents

With increasing life expectancies for the ageing baby boomers, savvy financial planning for the golden years is the new black. Numerous revelations of the enquiries into the financial services sector, especially the Royal Commission, raises the bar in terms of awareness that we must all be diligent if we are to feel safe in the provisions we make for ourselves in our golden years.

While we have never anticipated ‘fees for no service’ from our bank, there is another reality we never anticipate – that someone we trust to care for us will take advantage of us financially. Planning to protect against this risk is a difficult reality to face. A diagnosis of dementia increases the complexity of this issue.

Elder abuse can be financial, psychological, physical, sexual or the result of neglect. While we hear of cases of abuse in aged care facilities, the reality is that over 80% of perpetrators of elder abuse are members of the person’s immediate family, usually an adult son or daughter.

The most common type of elder abuse reported to authorities is financial abuse, followed closely by psychological abuse. Often, the two are intertwined.

The psychology of a trusted family member or friend morphing into one who steals from you is complex.  Defrauding a family elder is sometimes lightheartedly referred to as ‘inheritance impatience’ but it is a real and often tragic issue.

Advocare and the Public Trustee are the two organisations in WA who deal with these matters. Consider the story of Perth grandmother Gwen (not her real name).

Advocare was contacted by the manager of a residential care facility seeking assistance for Gwen, a resident. Gwen had raised concerns with the manager about her son, who lived interstate, taking advantage of her through the abuse of an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA).

Gwen had appointed her son as an EPA when she went into hospital for major surgery. She had since recovered and resumed active control of her finances and in doing so discovered the financial abuse.  Much of her savings had been withdrawn.

At her request, Advocare assisted Gwen to revoke her son’s EPA.  The facility then assisted Gwen to attend Centrelink and her bank to provide them with copies of the letter. Changes were made to Gwen’s banking arrangements to ensure that her son no longer had access to her accounts.

While the loss of her savings was a blow for Gwen, I’m sure the real tragedy was the loss of her loving, trusting relationship with her son.

Prevalence rates of elder abuse are hard to determine, as elder abuse is grossly under reported. Barriers to reporting include fear, shame, being dependent on the abuser or concern over becoming estranged from family. For people living with dementia, the risk is greater as they may not be aware the abuse is happening, or be able to communicate their concerns.  As our population ages, the incidence of elder abuse will undoubtedly rise.

We have a duty to protect our elders and ourselves.  Look out for your friends in this as well, especially if they are socially isolated.

Most of us want to make provisions for those we love as well as be able to live financially secure all of our days.  However, as part of your plans, think carefully about who you appoint as your attorney, and consider the checks and balances you need in place to minimise the risk that you will be a victim of inheritance impatience.

The following are tips from Advocare for older people to help keep themselves safe from financial abuse:

  • Get independent advice before signing any documents, including: from the sale of your property, your Power of Attorney and Enduring Power of Attorney, and your Will.
  • Stay aware of your financial position. Keep information about your finances and assets in a secure place. Don’t give others your PIN.
  • Be clear if money is a loan or a gift. Write a legal contract if lending money to anyone.
  • Make decisions now about what you want for your future if you become frail or incapacitated. Be sure to record your decisions and tell your family.
  • Make sure your children and grandchildren know that any Will you make is a ‘Last Will and Testament’, meant for the end of, not during, your life.
  • Reduce the two most common factors in elder abuse – dependency and isolation. Where possible maintain your independence, and stay physically, mentally and socially active.
  • No one deserves abuse. If you have any questions or are concerned about elder abuse, contact the Elder Abuse Helpline on 1300 724 679 for free and confidential advice.

If you are concerned about dementia, please contact Alzheimer’s WA on 1300 66 77 88.

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