Preventing Elder Abuse of Someone You Love – They helped you, now they need your help.

Posted on June 18, 2012

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Older individuals can be especially vulnerable to financial abuse or exploitation at the hands of others. Individuals with physical or cognitive impairments are at even greater risk. The source of mistreatment may be a stranger or someone an individual trusts — even a family member. As a caregiver, it is important that you are alert to signs of elder financial abuse and that you are able to help your family members take precautions to prevent them from becoming victims.
Consider these points:
Executing Certain Legal Documents
  • If you are a caregiver, it can be difficult to begin this conversation with family members.  Reassure them that you are raising these issues because you want to be certain that their wishes regarding financial matters and health care decisions are respected and carried out, especially if there comes a time when they are unable to make these wishes known.
  • Two important documents related to financial matters are a will and durable power of attorney. If completed, they can assure that family members’ wishes regarding asset distribution upon death will be honored and that financial decisions will be made by a trusted individual.
  • Your family members should also consider completing two other documents. A living will provides a blueprint for treatment that they would and would not want carried out in the event of life-threatening medical situations or end of life care. A health care power of attorney would permit a trusted individual to follow the guidance in the living will and make medical decisions if your family members become unable to do so.
  • It is important that your family members understand that these documents can only be completed at a time when they are capable of comprehending and making these decisions.
Encourage Organization of Legal and Financial Documents
Important documents such as insurance and banking information, deeds, investment information, wills, and power of attorney papers should be kept in a secure location.
Another person who is trusted by you and your family members should know of this place and also have access to it. Encourage your family members to review these documents yearly to make sure that they still reflect their wishes.
Stress the Importance of Monitoring Financial Affairs
Reinforce the importance of checking monthly credit card, banking, and other financial statements to ensure they are correct. Offer to assist if it is difficult for your family members to manage these tasks. Encourage the use of direct deposit for Social Security and other payments to prevent mail fraud, and pay attention to protecting passwords they may use for the Internet, ATMs, and telephone transactions.
Suggest Caution in Making Financial Decisions
Advise careful consideration of financial decisions. Suggest that it is helpful to have another set of ears to help review their options before making a decision and another set of eyes to review financial documents before signing. Your family members need to be careful when responding to any in-person, mail, Internet, or telephone invitations.  Fraudulent solicitors are very skillful in trying to gain someone’s trust.
Your family members should never be pressured into making an immediate decision. Let them know that if a solicitation sounds too good to be true, it most likely is. Encourage them to speak with family or trusted friends before sending money or providing bank account, credit card, or Social Security numbers to solicitors.
Provide Tips on Dealing with Telephone Solicitations
Billions of dollars are lost each year due to fraudulent telemarketers. Let your family members know that they are not being rude by hanging up when a solicitor calls. You
may want to suggest using an answering machine or caller ID to screen calls. Your family members can also add their names and phone numbers to the National Do Not Call
Registry by calling 1-888-382-1222. This will greatly reduce the number of telemarketing and other unwanted calls.
Maintain Open Dialogue
As a caregiver, it is important that you maintain open communication with your family members. Encourage them to speak with you about any concerns or issues that arise at any time. If you notice that they seem unduly worried, ask about it.
Whatever the problem may be, it is often better if shared. Victims of elder financial abuse and other forms of abuse are often reluctant to discuss it because of  embarrassment or sometimes fear, especially if it is a family member or someone else close to them that is the perpetrator.
Take Their Concerns Seriously
Take any concerns from your family members seriously and try to get as much information as possible. If you are reporting an instance of financial abuse or other form of abuse, it is critical to provide as much information as possible. Assure your family members that they are not alone and that you are there to listen and help.
If the information provided suggests that there was possible financial or other elder abuse that took place, there are resources to assist, including your family members’ local police department, bank (if money is being taken from accounts), and Adult Protective Services.
To obtain the contact information for Adult Protective Services in your family members’ local area, call the Eldercare Locator, a government-sponsored national resource line, at 1-800-677-1116 or visit their Web site at http://www.eldercare.gov.
Watch for Changes in Your Family Members’ Appearance or Mood
Your family members may not report that they have been financially or otherwise mistreated; therefore, it is crucial that you are observant for changes in their mood or
appearance that may suggest abuse or neglect. Changes in mood or behavior may not be specific to financial or other forms of abuse, but they should be investigated as something is causing the change. Changes to watch for include hesitation in speaking openly with others, especially when a particular person is around, agitation, anxiety, fear, and changes in sleep, eating habits, and behavior.
It is important to understand that financial exploitation may be a motivating factor behind other forms of abuse. Physical or psychological mistreatment or neglect may be
other ways that a person abuses an elder, thus hoping to gain access to his or her financial or material assets.
Recognize the Signs of Elder Financial Abuse
Signs that your family members may have been victims of elder financial abuse include:
changes in usual banking habits, excessive use of ATM cards and credit cards, abrupt
changes in their will or other financial documents, unpaid bills, unexplained disappearance
of valuables, unexplained transfer of assets or money to a family member or someone
outside of the family, and discovery of your family members’ signatures on forged or blank
checks, financial documents, or titles in their possession. Reassure your family members
 that you are asking out of concern and want to help if there is a problem.
Keep Safety in Mind
If you suspect or discover a situation of elder financial abuse or other form of abuse, always be aware of your family members’ safety. If you are considering confronting the perpetrator, be certain you are not putting your loved ones in a more vulnerable position. Be sure to have their consent, if they are able to give it, and that you are able to remove them from the situation immediately if needed.
Be Especially Vigilant if Your Family Members Have a Cognitive Impairment
Individuals with cognitive impairments, such as those caused by Alzheimer’s disease or other forms of dementia, are especially vulnerable to financial abuse.   If your family members are diagnosed with a cognitive disorder, make sure that their financial affairs are being managed and closely monitored. A decrease in one’s ability to
manage financial matters is often a sign of cognitive problems. If your family members have not been diagnosed with a cognitive problem, but you observe changes in their
abilities to manage daily activities, pay bills, remember appointments and discussions, and use sound judgment, it is important to explore what is causing these changes. Start by discussing your concerns with your family members. They may need to visit the doctor to evaluate the changes you are observing.
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