In 2015, Advocare has released its first National Elder Abuse Annual report and the results are disturbing: As many as 1 in 5 older Australians may be elder abuse victims and the biggest perpetrators are their own children, the report says.
The report shows that of the perpetrators of elder abuse, 32% are the sons and 30% are the daughters of the elder abuse victims. The data from elder abuse hotlines established across Australia show that 33% of the abuse is happening in rural or remote communities, and 23% of the abuse happens to those with a disability.
But Advocare chief executive Greg Mahney says this figures are only the tip of the iceberg and adds: “The question is, when will this issue be addressed nationally to ensure our seniors and our future seniors no longer suffer abuse?”
The most common kind of abuse is financial abuse, where older people are taken advantage of or have their assets stolen or embezzled.
Financial elder abuse can take many forms:
- Stealing cash, directly or from bank accounts
- Forging the victim’s signature
- Coercing or deceiving the victim to sign a power of attorney or will or other legal document
- Using property or assets for their own benefit without permission
- Promising care in exchange for money or property and not following through on the promise
- Scamming a older person through deception, trickery, false pretence, or dishonesty to gain financial benefits
The perpetrators of this crime are usually family members, most often the children of the elder abuse victims. Other people who financially abuse elders include:
- Sudden new friends or sweethearts
Mr Mahney wants a national approach to crack down on abusers and has suggested several reforms. “These include random audits of enduring powers of attorney to ensure they are being used legitimately, reforms to the banking industry to alert older customers of unusual activity and clarity to legislation about family agreements,” he said.
But he acknowledges that many elder abuse cases go unreported because the victim is embarrassed or afraid. “Prosecuting may lead to family backlash, or in many instances older people want the abuse to stop without breaking the relationship,” he said.
Helping Elder Abuse Victims
Unfortunately, in cases of elder abuse, it can be very hard to retrieve the money that has been lost. It should be key that you notice the warning signs of financial abuse:
- Sudden inability to pay bills or buy groceries
- Their possessions have gone missing and they don’t know why
- Missing funds in their bank account
- Strange activity in their bank account history
- Changes to a will that are unusual
- Social withdrawal and/or isolation
If you believe financial abuse is occurring, it is best you intervene. Seek legal advice immediately. The sooner you seek help the easier it is to remedy the situation. Once assets are sold or spent, it is unlikely that they can be restored.
Sadly as people get older the family find it hard to agree on what is best for the older person and disputes arise. Sometimes these disputes are quite legitimate, because someone is doing the wrong thing. Other times the dispute is simply a matter of personality and it would be hard to suggest that anyone is doing anything wrong.
Whatever is the case, we are highly experienced in assisted people in family disputes concerning the care and arrangements of older persons. This may involve an application to that tribunal known as QCAT.
Elder Abuse Victims: Case Example
One woman experienced a case of elder abuse from her own daughter. Not only did this case include financial abuse, but it also included physical. During the time, the daughter was experiencing the demise of her relationship. The mother moved in with her daughter Diana, due to showing signs of dementia. However, the mother soon developed behaviours that were not typical of her personality, leading her other daughter, Susan to be very concerned. Soon, other relatives, friends from church and even a carer all expressed their concerns on the living arrangement.
One person had witnessed Diana shouting aggressively at her mother. Another had heard similar verbal abuse. The possibility of elder abuse was mentioned.
Susan and a concerned neighbour met with Diana and their mother to discuss the situation. Diana agreed to move out of the house. Relatives took over joint management of Susan’s mother’s financial affairs via powers of attorney. Her house was sold and she moved into supported accommodation.
It was then that about $40,000 of unexplained expenditure was uncovered.
With the difficult living situation resolved, the family decided not to pursue the money and possibly get Diana in legal trouble. What happened still has ramifications, as Susan no longer has a relationship with her sister. With hindsight she says if she’d had “any inkling” how things would turn out she wouldn’t have let her sister move into their mother’s house.
At Estate Battles, we often act for people who have been the elder abuse victims and we are experienced in all areas of elder law. If you need help, we offer a free 10-minute phone consultation. Contact us today.