Tips to spot and prevent financial elder abuse


Few of us want to admit it, but nearly everyone who lives to see old age will reach a point where they are unable to manage their affairs. In some cases, the issue is short-term and related to a temporary illness or hospitalization. In other instances, the problem is a permanent consequence of Alzheimer’s disease or another form of dementia.

When this happens, most people end up having their affairs managed by a friend or relative. Unfortunately, financial misdeeds are one of the most common forms of elder abuse. Too often, the person entrusted to manage the elder’s finances ends up diverting the money to him or herself. At best, this means that the elder’s estate planning wishes won’t be carried out. In severe cases, though, financial elder abuse can leave the victim without the resources he or she needs to afford medical care or a respectable quality of life.

Spotting financial abuse

If your loved one is having his or her financial affairs managed by another person, it can be helpful to be aware of the indicators of financial elder abuse. Some possible warning signs include:

  • The elder seeming withdrawn, frightened or hesitant to discuss finances
  • The caregiver isolating the elder or preventing friends and family from visiting without the caregiver present
  • Unusual activity in the elder’s financial accounts
  • The elder’s signature appearing on checks or financial documents, even though the elder is too ill to write or understand complex financial matters
  • Many unpaid bills or a lack of appropriate clothing, food and personal care items
  • Significant changes in the elder’s spending habits, including purchasing things that are unnecessary or not useful

Of course, the appearance of one or more of these warning signs doesn’t necessarily mean that abuse is afoot. However, it should signal you to pay closer attention to what is happening in your loved one’s life. In Massachusetts, individuals who suspect elder abuse can contact their local Elder Protective Services Agency.

Estate planning to prevent elder abuse

Careful estate planning now can go a long way to protect you from financial abuse when you get older. As you are preparing your financial affairs, consider the following tips:

  • Plan early: You never know when an unexpected illness or injury might strike. Even if you are not ready to create your entire estate plan, you should craft a durable power of attorney that puts a trusted person in charge of your finances in case something happens. Make sure this person is someone who has a good track record of managing his or her own financial affairs.
  • Institute checks and balances: Consider giving the power of attorney duty to two or more people. Not only will this provide a safeguard in case one ends up being dishonest, but it will also protect you if one of the individuals dies or becomes incapacitated and you have not updated your estate plan. It is also a good idea to have your financial statements sent to more than one person, for the same reasons.
  • Work with an attorney: Everyone’s estate planning needs are different, and there is no one-size-fits all solution. An experienced estate planning attorney can help you make sure your interests are protected.

Elder abuse is an all-too-common problem, both in Massachusetts and throughout the United States. Hopefully, these tips can help you protect yourself and your loved ones from becoming victims of financial abuse.

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