All About Estates

When the Best of Intentions becomes Financial Abuse

Financial elder abuse is not a new topic, however sometimes I wonder how does it start?

Lawyer, Heather Hogan  recently blogged about this topic in response to a New York Times article “Financial Abuse of the Elderly: Sometimes Unnoticed, Always Predatory”.

In my day to day work, it is our older seniors who have outlived their family and friends who seem to be on my radar screen. What starts as a friendly helping hand can often, somewhere along the journey, go bad- very bad.

I am aware of many situations, where intentions start off well. The senior is very appreciative of a ‘friendly neighbour’,(repair person, fellow congregant, boarder etc) who lends a helping hand and offers to rake the leaves, shovel the walk, hang up a picture, change a light bulb or drive the senior to an appointment. Let’s hope these are all good Samaritans. Period. Sometimes a friendly face and helping hand is just that- and nothing more or untoward.

However what about when the ‘friendly neighbour’ who picks up a few groceries and is later paid for them, is told to keep the change- yet the change may be $20.00 or more? Or how about when the neighbour is offered money as a birthday or holiday gift? Is $20.00 ok? What about $200.00 or $2,000.00?  Sometimes these ‘friendly neighbours’ are asked to assume the role of Attorney. They may then use this legal authority to financially take advantage of the older individual. These are the situations my fellow bloggers address from a legal perspective.

Looking back, as hindsight tells the story, we can see the course of events unfold. What starts out as innocent may become something else. The financial accounting might reveal large sums of money that is ‘gifted’ or ‘loaned’ to these new friends without any of it being paid back. The Times article references a study that one in 20 older [American] adults reported being ‘financially mistreated’.

Surely, we can’t be suspicious of everyone who is nice and offers a helping hand to a senior. What can we learn? What advice is there to be given? I think that capacity (of the senior) and intent (of the ‘friendly neighbour’) along with circumstance are the key influencers for all of us to be aware of.

There are still many kind individuals who provide assistance from their hearts and want nothing in return except the good feeling that comes with helping someone. However there are also abusers who often resemble a wolf wearing sheep’s clothing. The National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly provides a number of guidelines in recognizing and preventing financial abuse which we should all review and share. The key message is be aware.

-Audrey

About Audrey Miller
Email: amiller@eldercaring.ca About: Audrey Miller, Managing Director of Elder Caring Inc. has over 25 years social work and rehabilitation experience working with older individuals and their families. She advises the financial, insurance, legal and business communities regarding elder care issues. Audrey is a recognized expert in her field.