Elder Abuse – the dirty secret

Elder abuse can be defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person” (World Health Organization)

Elder abuse can be financial, psychological, emotional, physical & sexual.

In the last month or so the rock has been lifted on this upsetting topic. There has been a National Elder Abuse conference in Melbourne and several newspaper articles. One of the most common forms of elder abuse is financial abuse and the most common perpetrator is the older persons child. The victims are most likely to be female and the perpetrators are most likely to be male.

The Age newspaper (24/2/16) coined the term “inheritance impatience” as a key driver of financial abuse. Financial abuse occurs where there is illegal use of a person’s property and or finances without informed consent or where consent has been provided under duress, fraud or manipulation.

One of the key reasons for the increase in financial abuse could be due to rising house prices particularly in our capital cities, so the older person could be residing in an asset that is very valuable.

The Age article (24/3/16) notes that the Elder Abuse Prevention unit found a total of $56.7 million dollars was misappropriated from 139 elder abuse victims. By any measure that is a lot of money.

Financial abuse can occur in many guises from accessing an older person’s bank account, using a person’s credit card, a loan that is not paid back, signing documents relating to financial matters under duress or threats, this can include wills or powers of attorney.

Seniors Rights Victoria reports a significant number of people reporting financial abuse also report psychological/emotional abuse. This may well be a precursor to the financial abuse, by threatening behavior to sign documents, isolating a person from their friends or other family members, thereby allowing the financial abuse to occur.

Older people that have dementia or are socially isolated are particularly vulnerable.

The top three issues reported by Seniors Rights Victoria to July 2015 was incurring bills for which the older person is responsible, taking up residence in the home for reasons other than the benefit of the older person and stealing goods from the older person.

As an older person if you are concerned that you are being taken advantage of financially then Seniors Rights Victoria can provide advice and assistance. You may be more comfortable speaking with your solicitor or accountant about financial matters, but ensure your opinion and views are listened to and respected.

It is also incumbent on professionals to be aware of the growing problem of financial abuse and to be alert for clients that may be vulnerable