If you knew someone was causing harm to your elderly parent, you’d want to stop it. How, then, can you be aware that your aging loved one is suffering abuse at the hands of a caregiver or someone in a position where they should be providing assistance?
Elder abuse is more common than one might think, and is often perpetrated by someone close to the elderly person. According to the National Council on Aging, approximately one in ten Americans age 60 or older have been subjected to some form of elder abuse, and one study has shown that only one in fourteen cases of elder abuse are reported. In almost 60% of reported incidents, the abuser is a family member, and two-thirds of the abusers are adult children or spouses.
One common form of elder abuse is financial exploitation, the use or acquisition of the elder’s funds by a caregiver or third party without authorization. A caregiver can exploit the elder in his or her care by misusing an elderly person’s checks, credit cards or accounts. The caregiver could also steal cash, checks or household goods, forge the elder’s signature on documents, or engage in identity theft.
Financial exploitation of elders can also come in the form of drafting or changing their estate planning documents, such as their wills or powers of attorney. You may have read recently of the local case of 95-year-old Helen Plummer. A board member of the East Baton Rouge Parish Council on Aging drew up Ms. Plummer’s will, and the will named the executive director of the Council on Aging as the executrix of Ms. Plummer’s estate, with compensation to be paid to her for serving in that position. Ms. Plummer’s family had no idea this had been done until after their loved one’s death, when the executive director of the Council on Aging contacted them to let them know she was in charge of Ms. Plummer’s estate. The family is disputing the matter. This situation clearly illustrates the importance of being aware of what’s happening in the lives of our elderly loved ones, and how easily someone can take advantage of a senior who may not realize the true import of the actions they are being encouraged to take.
It may be difficult to determine if an elder is being exploited, as a caregiver may dismiss concerns as signs of an elderly person’s frailty or symptoms of dementia. Be aware of what’s going on with an elder family member’s financial affairs and don’t be afraid to ask questions. Often, being mindful of your loved one’s situation and inquiring into suspicious circumstances may be enough to stop the exploitation before it starts.
There are also steps you can encourage an elder to take to help protect themselves from exploitation or abuse. They can take care of their own health, and seek professional assistance for physical or mental health concerns. Consulting a qualified advisor to have documents such as wills or powers of attorney drafted, and reviewing those documents regularly to know what they contain, can be beneficial. Staying active in the community and in touch with friends and family can help prevent social isolation, which has been connected to elder abuse. They should have their own phone, open their own mail, and never provide personal information over the phone. These are all fairly simple measures elders can take to protect their own well-being.
Be proactive in taking measures to protect your elderly loved ones from abuse or exploitation and in encouraging them to protect themselves. Louisiana law requires that anyone who suspects elder abuse report it, and failure to report is a crime. Adult/Elderly Protective Services has a toll-free hotline that Louisiana residents can call to report suspected abuse at 1-800-898-4910. You may also want to contact an elder law attorney to find out what remedies are available if a loved one has been the victim of financial exploitation. You can visit the website for the Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs and select Protective and Advocacy Services if you’d like more information about Adult/Elderly Protective Services and the services they offer.
The information provided is not intended to be legal advice and does not constitute an attorney/client relationship. You should consult with an attorney for individual advice regarding your own situation. Ms. Melancon has engaged in the practice of law in Ascension Parish for the last eighteen years. The primary focus of her practice is estate planning, probate, special needs planning and elder law. For more information or to attend an upcoming estate planning seminar, call her office at (225) 744-0027.