I am too often approached by family members or friends of elderly people for advice as to what can be done when someone has stepped in, supposedly to act in the elderly persons interests, but others suspect they may be taking advantage of that person. Unfortunately, elder financial abuse is more common than most people would like to think. It can range from someone using an older parents bank card to pay for their own groceries while doing mum’s shopping, to systematic financial theft from an account they have been granted access to over a long period of time, or more complex situations where an elderly person has been threatened or coerced into changing their will or transferring their property to another.
Unfortunately, those in need of regular care or those with a dementia diagnosis are most often the victims of this type of abuse and the perpetrators frequently do not get discovered until it’s too late and the assets are already gone. Some people might suspect it might be happening, but don’t know what to do to stop it. Others just don’t want to get involved as they don’t want to upset the care arrangements.
There are some measures we can all put in place to try and stop this abuse from occurring. Seek legal advice and make a valid appointment of an enduring power of attorney appointing someone that you trust to be the manager of your finances if you were to lose capacity. Ensure that there are clearly stated restrictions however such the attorney cannot obtain any financial benefit for themselves and/or that the appointment only becomes effective once a medical practitioner provides a medical certificate confirming you no longer have capacity to manage your own affairs.
If you do suspect that an appointed attorney is not doing the right thing, and the older person does not have the capacity to revoke the power of attorney, an application can be made to the guardianship division of the NSW Civil & Administrative Tribunal to have the appointment of the attorney reviewed or revoked and a new person appointed.
Thankfully there is now a lot more attention being given to elder abuse with a lot of community support workers or other welfare agencies that have regular contact with elderly people receiving training in how to identify elder abuse in the community.
If you think something like this is happening to someone you know, please seek legal or other advice as soon as possible.
KC Hilton, WNB Legal.