Fraud, Scams, Undue Influence, Theft, Deception , Oh My
Elder Financial Abuse is broadly defined as illegal or improper use of an elder’s income or assets. It can range from breach of fiduciary duty when an agent named in a power of attorney uses that authority for personal benefit, to outright theft with a continuum of bad conduct in between. It may be facilitated by a senior’s dementia, social isolation or by misplaced trust and reliance on caregivers and service providers.
The abusers can be strangers like the “wood chucks” who offer to make expensive home repairs, and upon receiving a cash advance, depart, never to be seen again. Now that most everyone uses a computer or electronic device for email, a whole new world of scams have developed such as the girlfriend or boyfriend a senior met online, and has been sending money to. The IRS scams frequently target seniors.
The abusers can also be friends, relatives or neighbors. A senior may be reluctant to report the abuse or even to acknowledge that he or she has been the victim of a scam for fear of losing independence if family members insist on moving into a nursing home, or even worse, pursuing a legal guardianship.
There are steps that can be taken to lessen the chance of being a victim of elder financial abuse. Some states allow a financial power of attorney to be “springing”, that is only to come into effect with some triggering condition such as being declared incapacitated. No all states allow such powers of attorney, and financial institutions may required frequent reports from the doctors who declared incapacity.
Another option is to create a revocable living trust which contains a detailed incapacity plan, and names more than one successor trustee or a trustee committee to minimize the chance that any one person can control access to the senior’s assets.