Accounting for Law
Estates & Wills & Trusts

Abuse of elders becoming more common

By Charles Ticker

I recently came across two articles online from Australia that contain disturbing examples of how the abuse of elders has become more and more common. The first article suggests that the levels of elder abuse in certain parts of Australia have reached scandalous levels. According to the article, one of the root causes of the abuse is ageism in society. Specifically, there appear to be many people who suffer from inheritance impatience causing a lot of the elder abuse to take place within the family.

The most common form of abuse reported is financial abuse. Many adults view the older generation ahead of them as holding part of their inheritance. Additionally, less than 20 per cent of all elder abuse was reported to the authorities. There are many kinds of elder abuse, including physical, financial, and even sexual. An elder abuse helpline was set up in New South Wales in 2013. This was done to allow state officials to conduct their own investigation into various allegations of elder abuse.

Report from Western Australia identifies different ways elder abuse manifests

The second article suggests that many people may be committing financial elder abuse unintentionally and without knowledge. A report compiled by a parliamentary committee from Western Australia investing elder abuse found that financial abuse was the most common form and is often driven by ageist attitudes. Many people believe that their elderly parents’ assets should be used for the benefit of children and grandchildren.

Another example of financial abuse is something termed “early inheritance syndrome.” A person guilty of this believes that he or she is entitled to the older person’s money before they die. If this person obtains control of an elderly parent’s finances (for example by way of a power of attorney, also referred to in Western Australia as an enduring power of attorney), then he or she may start taking money that does not belong to him or her.

The report stated that the state of Western Australia had weaker protections with respect to enduring powers of attorney. Additionally, the report called for stronger rules with respect to witness requirements for signing documents, penalties for people who do not meet their obligations as an attorney or guardian, and improved protection when registering land transfers with powers of attorney. Finally, the report called on banks to be more proactive in identifying potential abuses of powers of attorney.

Importantly, the report found that not all abuse of elders was malicious. As an example, there were many instances where family members or caregivers were overwhelmed with their responsibilities and inadvertently committed what amounted to elder abuse due to their inability to handle the stress of caring for an elderly parent.

Abuse of elders must always be taken seriously

Elder abuse is a very serious issue. As populations age, many more elderly individuals are becoming susceptible to financial abuse. Many individuals are looking to their elderly parents’ assets with a sense of entitlement.

If you are considering granting a power of attorney to someone, you should seek legal advice before doing so. If you suspect someone you know may be the victim of elder abuse, you should contact social services, the police or a lawyer immediately. It is crucial to obtain legal advice to properly deal with a potential case of elder abuse.

More on these stories here.

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