Tag: financial elder abuse
Our readers will all be familiar of the issue of elder abuse, and the various forms that it can take. It is also well-known that elder abuse if underreported, giving rise to challenges in determining just how common it is and how incidence rates may be fluctuating within the context of our aging population.
A new study by Comparitech explores the issue of the underreporting of elder abuse and extrapolates reported incidents and studies regarding underreporting to gain an appreciation of how commonly it is actually occurring in the United States. Comparitech estimates that at least 5 million cases of financial elder abuse occur every year in the United States alone. While damages of $1.17 billion are reported, it is believed that the actual losses to seniors total $27.4 billion.
Technology also appears to be playing a role in increasing rates of elder abuse. Comparitech found that 1 in 10 seniors were victims of elder abuse and that the use of debit cards have become the most common tool in defrauding them of their funds. With phone and email scams on the rise in recent years, underreporting is anticipated to become a growing problem while incidence rates continue to increase without any way to determine exactly how many seniors are affected.
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Many of us are familiar with the concept of “elder abuse” or “elder neglect”, however, it is not always clear what that entails. WEL Partners consulted with the Toronto Police Services in developing an information guide for officers, on this very topic. It is now a guide that has been distributed to officers in the field.
Elder abuse/neglect “is any action or inaction, by a person in a position of trust, which causes harm to an older person”, as the guide indicates. As Toronto Police Services officers are often the only point of contact for older adults with the “outside world”, they are also often their only real chance of getting the help they need.
The guide lists various reasons as to why elder abuse/neglect is often under reported by the older adults that are the victims of such treatment:
- dependence on abuser/family member
- rationalization/minimization of the abuse
- denial of the abuse
- lack of recognition of abuse
- physical inability to report abuse
- feelings that they will not be believed
In the absence of victim/witness statements that are often relied on as evidence, the officers investigating these situations should be able to recognize some subtle warning signs of potential abuse of older individuals.
Some common types of abuse are noted as follows:
- Financial abuse
- Physical abuse
- Psychological abuse
The report describes various red flags for each of the categories listed of the common types of abuse. It further describes some additional considerations such as the mental capacity of the senior adult and the following questions to consider in assessing whether capacity is present:
- ability to understand the information needed to make a decision; and
- ability to appreciate the consequences of making, or not making, a decision.
For more information on this valuable resource in assessing whether the circumstances at hand show signs of elder abuse/neglect, see the Elder Abuse & Neglect: A Guide for Police Officers.
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A few weeks ago, I received a voicemail from a robotic sounding voice that had me chuckling. According to the robot, court proceedings had been started against me for failure to pay my taxes. If I didn’t immediately call them back, they would issue an arrest warrant to “get [me] arrested”. While I laughed at the absurdity of the message, the sad reality is that many people fall prey to scammers.
Elderly people can be especially appealing targets for scammers and abusers due to a mix of factors, including social isolation. A recent CBC news article out of Moncton highlights the type of financial abuse to which elderly people may fall prey. The CBC reported that two real estate agents entered into a listing agreement in 2013 with an elderly man. They eventually entered into a further agreement allowing the real estate agents to purchase the home for three quarters of the listing price and requiring the victim to provide an interest-free loan to the agents along with credits towards the purchase price. Overall, the victim received approximately $17,000.00 in exchange for his home.
Not only were the real estate agents able to scam the victim on the sale of his home, the victim also named the two agents as his attorneys for property and as trustees and sole beneficiaries of his estate under his Will.
Eventually, the abuse was discovered when doctors determined the man lacked capacity to make decisions and contacted New Brunswick’s public trustee office. The public trustee’s office, in turn, passed along news of what happened to New Brunswick’s regulator for real estate agents, who have now suspended the licences of the agents for at least one year.
This story showcases just one of the ways in which a person might become a victim of financial abuse. Elderly people without the social support of family members or strong community ties may be especially vulnerable to this abuse. This story also highlights, however, the important role 3rd parties can play in catching and preventing elder abuse. This can be seen by the intervention of hospital staff, the public trustee office, and the professional regulators.
While the article doesn’t explain whether the victim had his power of attorney and will drafted by a lawyer, this article will hopefully also serve as a reminder to drafting solicitors to probe these issues when retained by clients who may be vulnerable to undue influence and abuse.
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Elder financial abuse is a growing concern. What is being done in Ontario to prevent it?
I recently came across a new service called Estate Protect which acts as a registry and fraud monitoring service for important estate documents, including powers of attorney.
Lawyers (on behalf of their clients) are able to register estate planning documents with Estate Protect being a secure and accessible place. The idea is that the most recent documents, and a record of any changes, are available to the appropriate person when necessary to ensure that valid estate planning documents are used (and relied upon).
Using a power of attorney document as an example, through Estate Protect’s notification service, designated parties are made aware when someone tries to rely on a power of attorney document. If the document is the valid power of attorney, the notified individual need not take any steps. However, should the power of attorney be, for example, a fake or previously revoked power of attorney, or should the transaction seem suspicious, the notified individual has the opportunity to intervene to avoid misuse.
The service also allows people accepting instructions, such as banks, to determine whether the power of attorney is valid before acting on instructions.
It makes sense that Estate Protect relies on tackling financial elder abuse through preventative measures, as opposed to remedial options.
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