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What Does Financial Abuse of the Elderly Look Like?

Posted by Gregory Poulos | Oct 09, 2019 | 0 Comments

When you think of financial abuse of the elderly, you may have certain images that come to mind. Perhaps it's the greedy nephew. Or a money-hungry elderly care provider. While not all instances look the same, one thing is certainly true: financial abuse of the elderly is becoming more common.

Baby Boomers, those born between 1946 and 1964, make up a huge portion of our population. In fact, the number of Americans who are 65 or older is projected to double from 52 million in 2018 to 95 million in 2060. With so many older Americans, the way we care for them continues to change and evolve.

And with that, more and more episodes of financial abuse of the elderly are coming to light.

The Higher Incidence of Financial Abuse

All of us, regardless of our age, are subjected to an onslaught of fraudulent offers daily. Whether these incentives arrive via email, direct mail, over the phone, or on social media, they can sometimes catch us off guard. We've all become more wary of these scams, and we have come to realize that if something looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Unfortunately, it's not the scams that are responsible for much of the financial abuse of the elderly. No, that honor usually goes to someone an older person has a relationship with: a caregiver, friend, romantic interest, or even family member.

When the culprit is someone the elderly person trusts, it can be especially tricky for family members to address. After all, Grandma may be attached to or feel dependent upon the person you're trying to bring attention to. And if the person is a family member, there may be concern about stirring up family drama.

Financial Abuse of the Elderly Is Growing

There is a legal definition for the financial abuse of the elderly. It is an intentional act, or failure to act, by a caregiver or another person in a relationship involving an expectation of trust that causes or creates a risk of harm to an older adult. Specifically, financial abuse or exploitation is the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an older individual's resources by a caregiver or other person in a trusting relationship for the benefit of someone other than the older individual. This includes depriving an older person of rightful access to, information about, or use of personal benefits, resources, belongings, or assets.

In financial abuse cases that have gone to court, the term “undue influence” becomes very important. The definition of undue influence is: “When people use their role and power to exploit the trust, dependency, and fear of others. They use this power to deceptively gain control over the decision making of the second person.”

What Courts Look for in Financial Abuse of the Elderly

The court looks at the following things when considering if undue influence has been used:

  • The victim's vulnerability
  • The factors that created authority or power for the influencer (for example, becoming a primary caregiver)
  • The actions or tactics used by the influencers (did the influencer control who the victim was allowed to see, did they threaten to withhold life necessities, etc.)
  • The “equity of the result” (what were the economic consequences for the victim, how did it diverge from the victim's prior intent, etc.)

Examples of Financial Abuse

Some examples of financial abuse include:

  • Using ATM or credit cards without permission
  • Forging checks
  • Misusing power of attorney to gain access to funds for one's own needs rather than for the benefit of the victim
  • Pressuring the victim into paying abusers expenses in exchange for caregiving
  • Theft of money or possessions
  • Using coercion or deception to induce victim to surrender finances or property

Signs of Financial Abuse of the Elderly

According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, signs of potential financial abuse include:

  • Termination of vital utilities such as telephone, water, electricity/gas, or garbage
  • Unpaid bills and liabilities, despite adequate income
  • Oversight of finances surrendered to others without explanation or consent
  • Transferring assets to new “friends” who are assisting with finances
  • Checks written to “cash”
  • Does not understand his/her current finances, offers improbable explanations
  • Unexplained disappearance of cash, valuable objects, financial statements
  • Unexplained or unauthorized changes to wills or other estate documents
  • Giving away money or spending promiscuously
  • Appearance of property liens or foreclosure notices

If You Suspect Financial Abuse

It can be difficult to determine if financial abuse of the elderly is occurring with your loved one or friend. If you are afraid there is a change that an older friend or family member is being taken advantage of:

  • Talk to the victim and determine what is happening
  • Gather as much evidence as you can
  • Call financial institutions. While they cannot share information, under the new Senior Safe Act, they can stop disbursements if there is suspicion of financial abuse.
  • Report any and all forms of elder abuse to Adult Protective Services (APS). APS offices are designed to help investigate allegations of abuse.
  • Contact law enforcement. APS should be able to tell you who to contact in the law enforcement in your community.

Having an experienced attorney on your case is equally important. Trust Poulos Law Firm to provide you with knowledgeable counsel to protect your loved ones from financial abuse of the elderly. Contact us to learn more.

About the Author

Gregory Poulos

Meet Greg PoulosAn Experienced Estate Planning & Business Attorney serving the Phoenix AreaGregory Poulos counsels clients on the best strategies for accomplishing their estate planning and business goals. Greg starts by “Putting His Clients at Legal Ease” so that they understand the legal issues...


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