Understanding Financial Elder Abuse

Financial elder abuse is a serious problem for many senior citizens in the United States. Being able to recognize and report this kind of abuse will ensure the safety of your loved ones.

Elder abuse occurs when a victim is financially exploited, usually due to his or her diminished mental capacities. Financial elder abuse can take a number of different forms, including stealing money and other assets, forcing the elder to sell his or her property, and withholding money from the elder for daily living expenses. Taking an elder’s money and using it for purposes other than caring for him or improving his quality of life may also be financial abuse.

Abuse of this nature is a crime, and it is often committed by someone who is close to the victim– a family member, close friend, or even a service provider such as a doctor or therapist. Fraud, theft, forgery, extortion and the wrongful use of a Power of Attorney are other popular forms of financial abuse. This kind of exploitation may occur with or without the victim’s knowledge. Often, this kind of abuse may go unreported because of the elder’s inability to identify the situation, fear of the abuser, shame at the fact that he or she can’t control the situation, fear that he or she will not be believed, or a feeling that he or she is incapable of accurately describing the situation due to mental incapacitation.

Financial elder abuse also occurs when the victim is manipulated into signing legal documents, such as changing a Durable Power of Attorney, trust details, or Living Will. This practice commonly affects elders who have decreased mental capabilities, which makes it easier for them to be manipulated.

If you suspect this is happening to one of your elderly loved ones, there is something you can do to correct and even prevent it. Importantly, if the elder in question has any form of cognitive deficiency or he/she has been diagnosed with dementia, you can obtain a letter from the elder’s physician stating that the elder is no longer competent enough to handle finances. Without any medical or psychological evaluations of the elder, it is difficult to provide protection from financial abuse.

To prevent this kind of abuse, you may wish to consult an elder law attorney, who may be able to obtain permission from the court for an evaluation, even if the elder’s “agent,” does not wish to obtain such a test. An elder law attorney can help guide you through the process and help to secure your loved one’s health and happiness.

Bernard Krooks is a New York Elder Law and New York Estate Planning lawyer with offices in White Plains, Fishkill, and New York, New York. To learn more, visit Littmankrooks.com.

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