As the older population continues to increase at a historical rate within the United States, concerns over abuse and neglect of the elderly grow as well. When most of us think about elder abuse, we envision physical abuse or caregiver neglect. While those forms of elder abuse certainly do occur, financial abuse of the elderly is the most common form of elder abuse in the U.S. To help you keep your elderly parents safe, the attorneys at Wilcox Attorneys, PA offer tips on how to protect your aging parents from financial abuse.
What Is Financial Abuse?
You may be aware that older individuals are frequently the targets of scam artists; however, did you know that financial abuse of the elderly is classified as a form of elder abuse? Elder financial abuse is broadly be defined as the “misappropriation or abuse of financial control in a relationship where there is an expectation of trust, resulting in harm to the elderly victim.” While outright theft of money, assets, or personal items certainly qualifies as elder financial abuse, there are other ways in which elder financial abuse can be perpetrated as well, including:
- Taking advantage of the role of guardian and misappropriating funds from a retirement check, pension, or social security check.
- Forging the name of an elderly victim on a check or legal document.
- Stealing the identity of an elderly victim.
- Using “undue influence” to get an elderly individual to execute a Will or make changes to an existing Will in favor of the person exerting the influence.
- Withholding care or threatening to do so to get an elderly victim to sign over property or give the perpetrator cash or other valuables.
- Threatening the use of force to get the elderly victim to hand over something of value.
The Prevalence of Elderly Financial Abuse
One of the many problems encountered by law enforcement and advocates for the elderly when trying to combat all types of elderly abuse is that elderly victims grossly underreport victimization. Victims are often ashamed to have been the victim of abuse and/or they fear their retribution from their abuser who is often also their caregiver. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates that 5.2 percent of the elderly population is impacted by financial abuse, making it the most prevalent form of elderly abuse. Sadly, the USDOJ also estimates that 44 instances of elder financial abuse are not reported for every one instance that is reported.
Tips to Help Protect My Parents from Becoming the Victim of Elder Abuse
Realizing the extent of the elder financial abuse problem in the U.S. can be quite upsetting, especially if you have parents who are getting up there in years. The good news is that there are some things you can do to help protect your parents, such as:
- Talk to them. Sit down with your parents and explain to them what you know about elder abuse in general and financial abuse in particular. Sometimes, just starting a conversation now is enough to get them to speak up if they do fall victim to elder financial abuse down the road.
- Educate yourself and your parents. Stay up to date on the latest scams people are running that target elderly victims. You may be surprised at how often a single scam is used to target thousands of victims.
- Guard legal documents. You should know where your parents keep important legal documents and (ideally) have access to those documents. At a bare minimum, stress to your parents the importance of keeping them out of reach of potential perpetrators.
- Consider POA or guardianship. You should discuss having financial Power of Attorney over your parent’s assets; however, if a parent’s cognitive abilities begin to decline it may be necessary to petition for guardianship.
Are You Concerned That Your Parents are Victims of Elder Financial Abuse?
For additional information, please sign up for one of our FREE estate planning webinars. If you are concerned that your parents have been targeted for financial abuse, contact the experienced Washington County, Fayetteville, Springdale, Rogers, Bentonville, and Northwest Arkansas elder law attorneys at Wilcox Attorneys, PA by calling 479-443-0062 to schedule your appointment today.