FINANCIAL ABUSE OF OLDER PEOPLE

The topic of elder abuse is unfortunately becoming more topical. Elder abuse can take many forms, including physical abuse, neglect, and financial abuse.

Financial Abuse is the most common form of elder abuse that people may experience later in their lives. It accounts for over half the known abuse events.

This article is an introductory article about Financial Abuse. It is hoped that this article and the articles that follow, will help readers to be alert to the signs of this type of abuse, both in relation to friends, family and neighbours,and also for themselves.

I am going to introduce the various situations, which can exist, and in future articles I will delve more deeply into the various topics.  If you have a particular scenario, let the magazine editor know and I may be able to do an article on this for you.

What is Financial Abuse?

It is not simple to define Financial Abuse. It can range from someone using another person’s money or assets without their consent, stealing money or assets from them or denying them access to their own money. This may happen without the older person being aware of it, or they may be aware of it, but they may be unable or unwilling to do anything about it.

Common situations include:

  • A family member not properly looking after an older person’s money (even though it may not be intentional).
  • Deliberate theft.
  • A family member or carer using an older person’s eftpos card for their own purposes and emptying the account of funds so the older person cannot have access to any cash.
  • Mis-using an Enduring Power of Attorney to sell property, raise mortgages etc, often with threats attached.
  • A family member who repeatedly pressures their parent’s for money and never repays it.
  • A family member who sells the parent’s house and uses the money for themselves-often covered up by calling it a “loan”.
  • Family members who control a parent’s money, often by having the parent’s pension paid to themselves so that the older person always has to “ask” if theywant any money.
  • The control of money can be subtle. A caring daughter looking after her mother’s funds when she is in a rest home still needs to understand that she is dealing with her mother’s money. To “dish out” say $10 a week pocket money can be demoralizing for her mother. This needs to be handled with genuine care. Maybe rest home operators could educate family members in this area, as I have had quite a number of clients who have been left so little money in their purses each week, that they can not afford to take someone out for a cup of tea more than once a week without spending their entire weekly allowance. It maybe the low end of the scale, but it happens far too often. After all, whose money is it?

Effects of abuse.

The effect of financial abuse can often mean that the abused person has no money, which reduces their options in life. Without direct access to money, and if they always have to ask for it or account for it to a son or daughter, their life becomes miserable.In the worst scenario they may not be able to buy food, and in other scenarios they may not be able to have the option oftaking a holiday or moving home to live elsewhere.

Financial abuse causes health problems. These problems can be both mental and physical, or more likely it will cause both of these. The health problems generally arise as a result of the fear and worry and/or thelack of money. The fear and worry is often because the abused person says nothing about it to anyone. They wonder if it is real and wonder if they are going crazy. If the abuse is by one family member they fear what the other family members will think or say. They do not want to cause family disharmony or “rock the boat”. They do not want to get the family member into trouble. Also they fear what will happen if they say something about it. Maybe they will get moved to an aged care facility and then lose contact with family and grandchildren. They may feel it is a private matter and have no one to share such private concerns with or they may feel ashamed. In my experience many people will feel many of these emotions.

It makes no difference whether the abused person is worth $100 or $1million, the feelings are the same. It happens to people in all walks of life.

Who gets abused?

Both men and women suffer from financial abuse, although women do seem to suffer it more often if they have had no experience managing money or have never worked outside the home.

Also people living alone are more likely to be financially abused particularly if they are in bad health.

Why does it happen?

There are many reasons why financial abuse happens. Often it is based on either straight out greed, or otherwise it happens when a person feels “entitled to the money. The abuser maybe a family member who cares for the parent more often and feel they should get more. They may not even be that aware what they are doing.

How can it happen?

Another common situation is where the older person sells their house to go and live with a family member. The funds from the house belong to the older person but are often used by the family members to pay off a mortgage, or do up a room for the parent to stay in, or to do improvements. Suddenly the money can disappear into the family member’s house. If the living situation does not work out, if the son and daughter in law divorce, if the parent enters into a new relationship or is unhappy living with the family, there may be no funds left to buy a new home or buy into a retirement village. Also other family members may feel aggrieved and this causes even more stress for the parent. This is a situation where legal advice is very important. There are many options, which lawyers can offer to protect all parties’ interests. This makes for a happier living environment, as all parties know exactly where they stand and know what their options are.

CONTACT Susie Mills or Age Concern IF YOU NEED TO KNOW MORE.