Many people have heard horror stories about physical abuse of the elderly, and even know of the possibility for emotional and psychological abuse. One of the forms of elder abuse that is little known, however, involves money. Financial elder abuse was brought to the public's attention due to legendary actor Mickey Rooney.
The former actor, now 90 years old, was recently granted protection because his stepchildren allegedly committed verbal, emotional, and financial abuse against Rooney. Allegations even go so far as to say that they denied him food and medicine. The evidence to support the allegations has all the earmarks of elder abuse: threats, intimidation, and harassment in order to stop the elder from defending themselves.
The financial abuse in Rooney's case involved blocking his access to his mail, while forcing the aged actor to make TV appearances against his will. Although the abuse in this case never turned physical, Rooney had necessary cause to believe that the situation might turn violent. He was then granted temporary protection.
What Is Financial Abuse?
Put simply, financial abuse is the exploitation of an elderly person in order to use their money, accounts, resources, or belongings. Anyone in a position of power or authority over a person is capable of financial abuse—this includes everyone from “kindly” neighbors to nursing home employees to other family members.
Elder financial abuse takes many forms, such as:
- Pretending to be a family member to solicit money
- Promising care or companionship for money in bad faith
- Taking money or property without permission
- Using forgery, fraud, or deception to access a person’s accounts
- Coercing an elderly person to sign away property, money, or their estate
- Taking advantage of an elderly person’s mental illness to solicit funds
Financial abuse doesn't have to involve complicated embezzlement schemes, but it can. The crime can be as simple as stealing cash from a sock drawer. In many cases, abuse is theft committed by a person they trust.
While it may seem as if scenarios like this are rare, the American Psychological Association reports that about 2.1 million aged Americans have become victims of some form and degree of abuse. Even worse, only 1 in 44 cases of financial exploitation of the elderly are reported, likely because 90% of cases are committed by loved ones.
The Impact of Elder Financial Abuse & Exploitation
It’s worse than you think:
Financial exploitation costs older Americans $2.6 billion every year.
Financial abuse is not simply robbery or stealing. For one, elderly people often need their money more than younger people, as many elderly people do not work. Their medical needs are also far more expensive and frequent. Many victims of financial abuse turn to government aid in order to cover their losses, making financial abuse a societal issue. Even worse, this abuse leaves elders psychologically and emotionally in turmoil.
Those who have their aged relatives in nursing homes or under the care of a caretaker should be careful to watch for the following signs:
- Mysterious bank account activity
- Possible forged signatures
- Change in spending patterns
- An isolated attitude
- Additional names on a debit or credit card
- Poor care despite adequate financial resources
- Sudden drop in quality of living conditions
- Sudden changes in the will or estate plan
Even if your elderly loved one is not in the care of a caretaker, they may become exploited from other sources. Anyone circling your loved one, whether they are family friends, other family members, or someone you’ve known for years, can be capable of financial abuse. If your loved one is surrounded by people with large debts, gambling addiction, or problems handling finances, you have reason to be vigilant.
What You Can Do
The best thing is to be vigilant and proactive—especially if your loved one is not of sound mind, or has a degenerative neurological or cognitive issues. These conditions make them likely targets for abusers.
Estate planning and issues regarding wills and trusts must be managed carefully in order to ensure that the individual is of sound mind and that assets are not distributed fraudulently. Power of attorney is one of the main issues surrounding financial abuse. This responsibility is only granted to those trusted to act on behalf of an elder when they are no longer of sound mind. If this responsibility is given to the wrong person, a will can be abused. The sudden granting of this power to a new person is a troubling sign of coercion.
Telemarketing fraud is a very real danger and can constitute a portion of financial senior abuse. According to the AARP, 56 percent of those on the receiving end of telemarketing calls are elderly. Those who are not sound of mind may easily fall for these schemes and provide personal information over the phone.
Contact our elder abuse attorneys today if you suspect that your loved one is being exploited.