It’s difficult enough for many seniors to cope with the normal issues and changes that arise as people age, but it’s particular unfortunate when they also must contend with financial abuse. The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse reports that a recent study by MetLife Mature Market Institute in conjunction with NAPEA and others (available on NAPEA’s website at http://www.preventelderabuse.org) finds that financial abuse of seniors is on the rise and costs billions of dollars. While much of the fraud noted in the studies was by strangers, a substantial share of financial abuse resulted from exploitation by family, friends, and neighbors. The study found that women are more than twice as likely as men to be victims of financial exploitation and men are somewhat more likely than women to be perpetrators.
Elder law attorneys can make various tools available to reduce an elderly loved one’s risk of financial abuse. Most importantly, statements for savings, investments, credit cards, loans, and lines of credit should be reviewed regularly to guard against unusual financial activity. Giving power of attorney to a financially secure and trustworthy loved one can ensure a second pair of eyes is on the lookout for patterns of abuse. Another option is to place assets under professional management through a living trust or other legal mechanism. We often help clients retain geriatric care managers to facilitate care and appropriate services to vulnerable seniors and serve as an additional bulwark against financial abuse. Of course, a lawyer should review contracts before they are signed. In addition, our firm helps families develop individual plans to protect a loved one where abuse is a serious concern.
Financial elder abuse often is circumspect and easy for the casual observer to miss. That is just one reason, it’s best to be proactive and put powers of attorney and other mechanisms in place early. Hiding your head in the sand can prove costly to both the victim and family.
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