At the beginning of November, we were fortunate enough to attend the Institute of Law Clerks of Ontario (ILCO) annual conference in Niagara-on-the-Lake. This conference brings together law clerks and paralegals working in various areas of law. It is a great opportunity to network with colleagues you have not seen in some time (no thanks to COVID!) and meet new people in the industry. It is a fabulous experience but also a great opportunity to learn by attending relevant workshops with well-regarded presenters.
One particularly interesting session was led by Kimberly A. Whaley, which included the important topic of elder abuse, particularly financial abuse, something that we are seeing far too frequently in our practice these days. Even still, we were both shocked by the following statistics:
- nearly 29% of Canadians know someone who is a victim of financial elder abuse;
- 42% of Canadians could not recognize the signs of financial abuse; and
- only 47% of Canadians know where to report suspected elder abuse cases.
According to population predictions, by 2046 it is estimated that there will be 4.4 million adults in Ontario over the age of 65 years compared to the 2.7 million in 2021[i].
There clearly needs to be more done to protect our fastest growing demographic, being those who are 65 years and older. COVID has seen a rise in elder abuse reports. One thing that is apparent is that there is a lack of awareness and action when it comes to dealing with this abuse. It is so important to continue to educate the public on this topic, both in how to recognize it and how to report it.
Forms of Elder Abuse
The forms of elder abuse can be characterized in the following categories:
- financial abuse
- psychological abuse
- physical abuse
- sexual abuse
- systemic abuse
The form of abuse that we hear about and deal within our practice area most often is financial abuse, which has risen significantly in recent years. This will often be discovered either through a client asking for help holding an attorney for property accountable if something seems suspicious or often when an executor is administering an estate and there are assets or funds that should have been there but are not.
Unfortunately, there are so many different ways fraud and financial abuse can occur, that banks often have to take a stricter stance to protect their customers. One of the issues we’ve recently been encountering is that as financial institutions increase requirements and restrictions in an attempt to prevent this type of abuse and fraud, it often becomes quite difficult and cumbersome to use powers of attorney and administer estates. The necessary protection of the vulnerable elderly population often puts employees of financial institutions in a position of not knowing who or what documentation to trust. Hopefully a balance can be achieved as representatives become more educated about what to look for and how to deal with the more common scenarios and legal documents.
As we started writing this blog, a news story emerged this week about 3 individuals who were arrested for allegedly running a construction scheme that defrauded a 75-year-old woman of over $1,000,000. Toronto police have identified 14 additional victims from February 2011 to October 2022 with five of those victims being elderly.
This form of abuse happens far more than we know. The charming and or aggressive door to door salesperson that flashes a badge to gain entry into a senior’s home to inspect their furnace equipment, can turn into contracts being signed for the rental of HVAC equipment that is not necessary. Often times, these contracts can be 20-year contracts, with liens registered against title to the individual’s property and sees hundreds of dollars a month being paid out for the rental of this equipment. It’s also a nightmare trying to deal with the buyout of the equipment when the individual passes away before the contract is finished, often causing the estate to pay thousands of dollars to buy out the contract to allow them to sell the deceased’s property.
Included in the online scams is romance scams. Elderly people can be lonely, particularly after the death of a loved one or when isolated and can easily fall prey to unscrupulous individuals professing to love them or care for them. Instead of finding a romantic partner or companion, they can end up being manipulated into giving away their life savings.
Far more commonly though, the perpetrator of the financial abuse is someone the vulnerable person knows, and thought could be trusted. Because the victim may rely on that person’s support, companionship or caregiving, or because the victim may be intimidated or embarrassed, they may not report or tell anyone about the abuse.
If you suspect that a loved one or someone you know is a victim of financial abuse, some of the signs to watch out for are:
- money going missing – can’t account for large “cash” transactions
- giving away property or property going missing, particularly valuable pieces of jewellery or art
- if the person doesn’t have access to their banking information – statements are missing, passwords to online banking accounts changed
- forged signatures on important documents and/or cheques
- as touched upon above, misuse of the power of attorney for property
- bills not being paid on time because there is not enough money to pay them – change in standard of care
- sudden changes in their living conditions, with previously uninvolved friends or relatives moving in and not contributing to the expenses
- multiple or drastic changes to estate planning documents or other legal documents (i.e. transferring title to their home)
Ways to Report Elder Abuse
If you suspect someone is a victim of elder abuse, support is available:
- when an older adult resides in a long-term care community, reporting any form of abuse is mandatory [ii]
- call Crime Stoppers – 1 800 222 8477 – Ontario has developed a province wide Seniors Crime Stoppers program to allow for anonymously reporting incidents of elder abuse
- Senior Safety Line – 1 866 299 1011
- Contact the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee – 1 800 366 0335
- Advocacy Centre for the Elderly – 416 598 2656
- If it’s immediate or life-threatening call 911
- Report it to the local police
Elder Abuse Prevention Ontario (https://eapon.ca/) provides a great resource for those looking for information about how to spot elder abuse and how to report it.
With the recent increase in online scams and fraudulent phone calls, we have justified concern for our vulnerable elders.
Knowing about the different kinds of abuse is important. Listening when an elderly person tells you something is not right is especially important. Following up and finding out additional information or reporting it to the police, or one of the agencies listed above is crucial.
Now more than ever, we need to protect our elderly relatives, friends and clients from elder abuse. Be the voice, when they can’t.
[i] The number of seniors aged 65 and over is projected to increase significantly from 2.7 million, or 18.1 per cent of population, in 2021 to 4.4 million, or 21.8 per cent, by 2046. Rapid growth in the share and number of seniors will continue over the 2021–2031 period as the last cohorts of baby boomers turn age 65. After 2031, the growth in the number of seniors slows significantly. – https://www.ontario.ca/page/ontario-population-projections
[ii] s. 75(1) Retirement Homes Act, 2010