Dutiful Child or Manipulator of the Elderly?

Elder abuse is a serious and increasingly common problem in our society. As people are routinely living into their eighties and nineties, physical and mental capacities may diminish, causing the need to rely on others for help with physical or financial matters.  A relative or friend who appears to be providing loving assistance can instead be in a position to financially exploit someone in a vulnerable condition.

Who Is Susceptible to Financial Exploitation?
While elder abuse can take several forms, such as physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse, or caretaker neglect or exploitation, studies show that up to one-half of all elder abuse in the United States is financial exploitation. Financial exploitation includes outright theft of money or property, illegal transfers of property, identity theft, and misusing a position of trust, such as through a power of attorney.

Research has shown that the following characteristics indicate that an elderly person is more likely to be financially exploited through undue influence:

  • Having recently experienced the death of a close loved one, such as a spouse or sibling
  • Social isolation that results from few family or friends who visit or living alone with little or no access to community activities or healthcare services
  • Experiencing anxiety or depression caused or worsened by loss or isolation
  • Physical limitations that require them to depend on others to perform daily living activities such as home and yard maintenance, personal health and hygiene, preparing meals, paying bills, and transportation
  • Mental limitations resulting from medication side effects, dementia, or injury
  • Being generally naive and extremely trusting
  • Having little to no knowledge about their financial situation or little to no experience handling finances, for example, if their recently deceased spouse handled all the finances

Although it is most often a family member who financially exploits the elderly person through undue influence, the exploitation can also come from any person whom the elderly person trusts, such as a neighbor, fellow church member, housekeeper, or professional adviser.

Often, the exploiter does not begin with the intent of abusing or manipulating the elderly person, but, as time goes on, whether because of resentment, entitlement, or other reason, the helper begins to feel justified in helping themselves to the elderly person’s money and assets.

What are the Warning Signs?
Below are some warning signs that a dutiful caretaker has crossed the line into elder abuse:

  • Disappearance of the elderly person’s cash or valuable possessions
  • Unusual withdrawals from their bank accounts
  • Unusual charges on the elder’s credit or debit cards
  • Unexplained transfer of accounts to another institution or person
  • Signatures other than the elder’s signature, or forged signatures, appearing on checks or credit card or loan applications
  • Placing the caretaker’s name on accounts as a joint owner or payable-on-death beneficiary
  • Changes to legal documents, such as a power of attorney, will, or trust, by the elderly person naming the caretaker to trusted positions
  • Adjusting the will or trust to leave an inheritance, or a larger inheritance, to the caretaker
  • The elderly person’s bills going unpaid or the elderly person expressing concern about not having enough money to pay bills when there is sufficient income or other financial resources available
  • The caretaker socially isolating the elderly person by limiting their access to communication (phone, mail, or email) or social visits or disallowing privacy on the phone or with visitors
  • Unexplained changes in the elderly person’s demeanor or interests

How to Prevent Financial Exploitation
Elder financial abuse regularly goes unreported because the abuser is often a family member or trusted caregiver and the elderly person is either unaware of the abuse or too embarrassed or afraid to report it. The risk of abuse can be reduced. Be aware of the warning signs. Create a community network around the elderly person. Take careful steps to plan for the elder’s decreasing ability to manage their own finances, such as setting up automatic bill pay or creating a power of attorney or trust.

We can help you take the steps necessary to protect yourself as you age or to protect your vulnerable loved ones. Schedule a meeting with us so we can discuss the appropriate steps to take.