Adjunct Associate Professor Dale Bagshaw, an expert in mediation at the University of South Australia, has called for more preventative measures to be put into place to protect our elderly citizens. She says this is due to the rising incidence of the most common type of elder abuse in Australia, which is financial abuse. Professor Bagshaw says the problem will continue to get worse as the population ages over the next twenty years.
Financial abuse can manifest in many ways. One example is of children refusing to visit their elderly parents unless they are given money or assets. Other examples include bullying elderly people for money or forcing them to sell assets, including their own homes. She also warns that often several types of abuse are often present at the same time. She says mediation can often help prevent the abuse of elders, by providing an opportunity for family members and significant others to get together to make plans or have difficult conversations in the presence of an impartial third party. The mediator ensures that the interests, rights and safety of the older person is taken into account in any decision making. She goes on to say: “an older-person-centred mediation approach puts the safety of our older citizens first and makes sure their rights are upheld, especially when their capacity to do so for themselves might be impaired for any number of reasons.”
Mediation Will Combat Elder Abuse
While the most common form of elder abuse is financial abuse, many other forms exist. Sexual, physical, psychological abuse and neglect are all forms of abuse that can exist within the elder community. Unfortunately, in most circumstances, it is not another elderly person that commits abuse on another. In fact, it is usually someone close to the older person that breaks the law.
“Inheritance impatience” is a term coined to define a new type of financial abuse. Greedy children are “extorting” their parents into becoming guarantors for their home loans against their will. Dr Eileen Webb, a UWA law lecturer has conducted research on the issue of the children suffering from early inheritance syndrome. She says, “They have a sense of entitlement. They see parent’s homes as an asset that has already been paid off and think because they will eventually inherit it they deserve it now. That might be through making their parent a guarantor to a home loan after sinister threats or even selling their property without their permission. One woman came out of hospital to find her children had sold her home without her knowledge and she was homeless.”
Much like family dispute resolution in family law, mediation may be one way older parents and their children can come to an agreement about financial matters before the parents become vulnerable to abuse. Mediation may also be helpful in reminding children that misusing funds is often a crime, and that the rights of the older people are upheld.
Physical abuse includes the act of physical assault. It usually includes physical violence and results in harm upon the elder, however, it can also include misuse of medication. A person may intentionally deprive someone or over administrate their medication so that the elder suffers horribly. Sexual abuse is making sexual advances without the other person’s consent. Examples can include rape, enforced nudity in someone’s presence or touching the elder in a place without consent. Both of these forms of elder abuse should immediately be brought to the attention of the police.
The last form of abuse is psychological and neglect. Psychological abuse is the act of manipulating a victim into receiving what they wish. Examples can include bullying, isolation and withholding the elder from activities or actions. Neglect is when the carer refuses to care appropriately for the elder or does not follow correct procedures to ensure the elder’s well being.
Estate Battles suggests that Family Agreements may be a good way to avoid family conflict and deter the likelihood of financial elder abuse. They are legal documents that help to make clear any informal arrangements between elderly parents and adult children. It might be a document that spells out how a live-in carer can be recompensed in the parent’s lifetime rather than in an unequal will.
Choosing more than one power of attorney can also be a wise more for elderly parents – including one who is not a relative. Prevention involves a lot less heartache for all concerned and can protect family relationships and stop devastating asset loss for the elders concerned. In this case, selecting a professional can ensure that each decision is made objectively and with the older person’s best interests in mind, avoiding early inheritance syndrome and the loss of the estate’s assets.
At Estate Battles, we can help prevent financial elder abuse or find a remedy for existing financial abuse. If you think someone might be at risk of being financially exploited, contact Estate Battles today. We offer a FREE, 10-minute phone consultation.