What Is Financial & Elder Abuse?
As our elderly loved ones age, they are more likely to suffer from various mental impairments, like dementia and Alzheimer’s, or have simple lapses in judgment. As a result, they become easier targets for scheming individuals to take advantage of and prey on them for their money, finances, property, stocks, and other assets or to cause them bodily harm. Financial elder abuse can involve a variety of scenarios. In some instances, an elder unknowingly signs their property away to another. In another common scenario, an elder is coerced or tricked into making bad investments. In whatever scenario, the perpetrator knowingly manipulates an elder to secure personal gain.
Types of Financial Abuse
According to California Welfare and Institutions Code section 15600, anyone over 65 years is considered an elder and is protected by the law from all forms of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or financial. Financial abuse of an elderly person occurs when an individual does one of the following:
- Takes, obtains, steals, or retains real estate or other personal property from an elderly person through deceit and exploitation and uses it for wrongful personal use or fraud or both.
- Assists another in the process of taking, obtaining, stealing, or retaining real estate or personal property for wrongful personal use or fraud or both.
- A person takes, steals, obtains, appropriates, or retains an elder or dependent adult’s real or personal property through undue influence.
Elders Can Be Financially Abused Through Undue Influence
Undue influence occurs when an individual or group uses their position of power to influence an elderly person or adult dependent for personal financial gain through persuasion. Elderly individuals are more likely to be subject to undue influence if they suffer from an illness or experience diminished mental capacity due to Alzheimer’s or dementia. Undue influence is a form of elder abuse commonly employed by individuals who appear to be in a position of authority. They are then able to use their authority to influence the elder for personal or financial gain. Positions of authority may include, but are not limited to:
- Status as fiduciary
- Family member
- Care provider
- Spiritual advisor/mentor
- Legal professional
- Health care professional
- Expert in another field
When a person is in a position of authority or power, they can use their influence to financially exploit the elder or dependent adult under their care or influence. Some methods they may employ include coercion, suggestion, intimidation, and controlling life necessities like sleep, medication, food, and the elder’s interactions with others. These individuals may also exploit the elder under their authority by accessing and gathering private information. At the same time, the victim sleeps and initiates changes in the victims’ personal property rights using secrecy and haste to effect those changes. Some signs that your elderly loved one could be experiencing financial abuse or exploitation include, but are not limited to:
- Unusual banking activity
- Legal documents signed by the elderly person at a time when they were incapable of writing
- Missing cash or jewelry
- The elderly individual unexpectedly purchasing unusual and/or expensive gifts
- Long-lost friends or relatives unexpectedly and suddenly spending lots of time with the elder
- Sudden changes to wills, trusts, or statements
- Unpaid bills when a certain individual has been designated to pay the elderly’s bills and utilities
- Suspicious looking signatures on checks
- Certain family members expressing excessive interest in “saving” the money being spent on the elderly person’s care or medical expenses.
Financial Elder Abuse Through Coercion
Some ill-intentioned individuals work to build a relationship and gain the trust of vulnerable elderly people or dependent adults to coerce them into doing things, giving them money, or giving them access to certain information. Once gaining the elderly person’s trust, the individual will use their power of influence or physical control over the elderly person to force them into certain actions. In most coercion cases, the elderly person is being exploited financially. A senior citizen is more susceptible to financial abuse through coercion if:
- The elder is socially or physically isolated.
- The elder has diminished mental capacity like Alzheimer’s or dementia.
- The elder has recently suffered the loss of a loved one, like a spouse.
- The elder is incapable of or unfamiliar with handling their own finances and financial affairs.
- The elder has family members who are experiencing financial trouble of their own.
Physical and Emotional Abuse
While elders and adult dependents often fall prey to ill-intentioned individuals and even family members hoping to exploit them financially, some elderly people are abused differently. Not all cases of elder abuse are limited to financial exploitation. Many elderly people or adult dependents are intentionally neglected, mistreated, and otherwise forced to suffer at the hands of their caretakers, family members, or other individuals. Some possible scenarios of physical and emotional elder abuse include, but are not limited to:
- Not feeding an elder who is incapable of feeding him/herself.
- A caretaker ridiculing an elder for using a wheelchair.
- Deliberately isolating an elder from other people, phone calls, and other forms of communication.
- The use of physical or chemical restraints.
- Causing fear through harassment, verbal abuse, threats, and intimidating behavior.
- Refusing to provide proper sanitary and hygienic care.
Who Are the Common Perpetrators of Elder Abuse?
Unfortunately, the perpetrator in many elder abuse cases is either someone in or close to the family of the victim. The perpetrator may be an individual or group trusted by the elder or their family, such as a caretaker, health care professional, family friend, lawyer, financial advisor, insurance agent, or another individual who has access to the elder’s personal financial information, or who might be in a position to persuade them to make bad investments or unwise financial decisions. These individuals may seek to abuse an elder or dependent adult for many reasons, including, but not limited to the following:
- They feel they are not adequately compensated for the care of the elderly person.
- They fear their inheritance will all be used on the aging person’s medical expenses.
- They feel that they deserve a different inheritance from the one the elder has planned.
- They face personal financial struggles due to drinking, drugs, gambling, or poor money management habits.