All the Strings Attached – The Financial Abuse of Elder Parents

Jessica Bost, COO, Wealth Advisor

He was sent to a nursing home, apart from his wife. He was strong-armed out of his estate assets. He was prescribed medication to suppress made-up behavioral issues. He was manipulated to sign a power over attorney to the family member orchestrating the entire scheme.

He’s not alone.

Self-reported elder financial abuse and fraud totals at least $2.6 billion dollars each year, according to a study published by the MetLife Mature Market Institute. Of the people exploited financially, over half suffered at the hand of a family, friend or neighbor – the majority of which were either a spouse or adult child, and irrespective to gender, race or ethnicity.

About one in 10 elders have experienced some form of abuse – physical, emotional, verbal, financial or neglectful – and it is estimated that only one in 25 abuse cases are reported to authorities. And devastatingly, these victims are 300% more at risk of an emergency-related death.

In many cases, the elder person was compromised by a recent health event, such as a stroke or dementia, which caused them to become either temporarily or permanently in need of assistance. Multiple studies have demonstrated that, in such situations when the caregiver is unprepared for the tremendous needs presented by caring for someone with dementia, the prevalence of abuse skyrockets to anywhere between 34 to 62%.

We, as a society, have a lot of work to do to advocate for the elder community.

Everyone who has an elder loved one, coworker, friend, neighbor and especially a client – someone who trusts you to have their best interests in mind – should be watchful and discerning. Research has shown elder abuse victims to be significantly more depressed than non-victims, and we must be aware and alert for these signs.

Having suspicion is enough to warrant careful and prudent conversations with family members or other close parties you trust, so that you can – if needed – enlist assistance from a third party.

For ideas on third-party resources, make a list of the elder person’s phone contacts, noting the professionals and public service members who may be in a position to take additional action on behalf of the person. Think attorneys, law enforcement officials, and other legal and financial professionals whom the person may know or may have worked with in the past. In some cases, due to the complexity of the abuse, a single report may not be enough to restore justice, as no one source will likely have the resources available to fully meet the need.

Finally, let’s keep in mind that every situation – no matter how egregious the abuse or difficult the consequences – deserves a response. Every human is entitled to basic rights, which include – but are certainly not limited to – equality; freedom from discrimination; the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of freedom; and the freedom from torture and degrading treatment. We may not know how to completely correct the wrong or restore justice, but we can always take the next right action step to protect and respect our loved ones. And then, once gaining a bit of altitude, clarity or additional assistance, take the next. And the next.

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