Recognizing financial elder abuse is just as important as recognizing physical abuse and neglect. Financial elder abuse can be devastating, because a victim’s life savings and assets can evaporate without their knowledge and leave them unable to meet their needs and/or incapable of passing on possessions and money to those close to them in their estate. Individuals that view elders as easy victims should be held accountable for their actions just like those who commit abuse or neglect.
The first step to correcting a problem is recognition. Thus, it is important to be aware of the signs of financial abuse so it can be stopped before serious damage occurs. Unfortunately, elders do not just face the risk of financial abuse from scam artists such as telemarketers, predatory lenders and strangers waiting to steal their identity. People in a position of trust with an elder – conservators, attorneys, financial advisors, trustees, friends, even family – may also misuse their relationship with the elder for personal financial gains.
Common Problem Areas
There are some categories of behaviors and actions that may strongly suggest financial elder abuse has been or is occurring. Family, caregivers, and those close to an elder should remain vigilant, investigate, and voice concerns if they observe any of these potential warning signs.
Behavioral Warning Signs
Elders may display a shift in their emotions or physical behaviors if they are the victims of financial abuse. Behavioral warning signs of elder financial abuse may include:
- The elder tells implausible stories to explain when, why, or how they spent money or bestowed gifts to individuals or entities;
- Becoming confused or extremely forgetful;
- Secretive behavior;
- Acting frightened;
- The elder’s hesitance or reluctance to speak freely while in the presence of their abuser;
- Withdrawing from relationships with family, friends, and those they trust;
- Depression; and/or
- Helplessness or anger.
Scenarios Involving Isolation
Elders are afforded special protections in California because they are recognized as particularly susceptible to predatory behavior due to their predisposition for mental diminishment (as compared to adults with full mental capacity). Separating an elder from those that love them and have their best interests at heart can increase their vulnerability to exploitation even more. It is important to watch for signs that:
- An elder is being isolated from visits and contact with others by a family member or caregiver;
- An elder displays signs of being lonely or comments on their loneliness; and/or
- An elder does not have the opportunity to speak freely or have contact with others unless their caregiver is present.
Financial Warning Signs
Though behavioral changes and other signs of abuse may be subjective in nature, numbers do not lie. Financial activity and changes can provide a very strong indicators that an elder is the victim of abuse. Red flags may appear in a variety of ways, such as:
- Unusually large ATM or bank withdrawals when the elder cannot make it to the bank;
- Signatures on legal documents by the elder when they cannot hold a pen;
- Signatures on checks and other documents that do not match the elder’s usual signature;
- Checks and other are documents signed by the elder when they cannot understand what they are signing;
- Significant loans are taken out against equity in real property;
- Checks written to “cash” or filled in by another person;
- Caretakers receiving unusually large gifts or a large compensation boost from the elder in exchange for their care or companionship;
- Caretakers or family members gradually becoming wealthier;
- Unusually large contributions to newly formed religious or non-profit groups;
- A sudden surge in the elder’s investments in property or financial products;
- A sudden flurry of activity in the elder’s dormant accounts; and/or
- The elder is suddenly unable to afford things that they have always been able to buy.
Other Warning Signs
Aside from some very clear categories of behavior and activity that may signal financial elder abuse, other suspicious occurrences should give rise to pause as well. Legal changes, questionable relationships, and objects disappearing may also indicate inappropriate behavior. Those close to an elder should watch for:
- The emergence of a power of attorney when the elder does not have the mental capacity to give power of attorney;
- The drafting of a new will or the modification of an existing will, including adding the caretaker to the will, when the elder lacks the mental capacity to make the changes;
- Missing money, jewelry, and personal items;
- A caregiver’s inappropriate interest in an elder’s finances; and/or
- The party controlling the elder’s finances refusing to spend money on care or amenities for them though the elder can clearly afford the expense.
These are just some of the signs to look for when you suspect financial elder abuse. Just like with any form of elder abuse, you should trust your instincts. If something does not seem right, or if there are discrepancies in the elder’s financial affairs and you suspect abuse, it is best to report it to the proper authorities. Financial elder abuse may incur civil penalties for the perpetrator as well, so you should seek the advice of counsel to understand your rights and learn how best to approach you or your loved one’s unique situation.
For a free and confidential consultation with an experienced financial elder abuse attorney, please call us directly at (866) 338-7079, or click here to submit your inquiry online.