Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in North America. It can happen at any time, but is more frequent during vulnerable periods like health crises in older adults. Traumatic episodes bring out financial abuse, a spouse's or close friend's death, when elder people can be isolated and desolate.
Under these circumstances, it becomes more difficult for the elderly to protect themselves from being coerced for demands for money. Other forms of abuse - physical and emotional - may be associated - escalating the financial abuse.
The Federal/Provincial/Territorial Ministers Responsible for Seniors in Canada has found that financial abuse is often a pattern, rather than a single event. It occurs over a long period of time. The elderly need a firm knowledge of their money and property, that they own them; not family or anyone else.
A Definition of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse is the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else’s money or property, including pressuring someone for money or property. Certain examples of financial abuse match the definition. An unauthorized person cashes a senior's pension check and retains all or part of the money without permission. In cases of misuse of power of attorney, a trusted family member takes funds from a donor's bank account and keeps part for themselves. Both examples are stealing.
Individuals granted the legal document of 'power of attorney' are required to act in the donor's interests, not their own.
Other examples of financial abuse are less classic and more difficult to define. They can include forms of coercion, pressuring, forcing and deceiving elders to:
- Lend or distribute money, property or possessions
- Sell or move from their homes
- Change the will or power of attorney
- Sign documents without full understanding
- Work for little or no payment - caring for children or grandchildren
- Purchase unwanted and unneeded goods and services
- Advance food and shelter without repayment
Who are the abusers?
Abusers often are people with close connections to the older adults. They take advantage and force them to do what they want. They comprise spouses, adult children, other relatives, friends, neighbours or caregivers.
How to get help?
Abusers often try to make the abused feel that they are to blame. The elderly need to seek advice from a trusted family member or close friend. Community resources offer assistance: banks or credit unions, local seniors’ centre, doctors, or the local police.
Tips and Safeguards
Protect financial and personal information in a safe place. Create an enduring or continuing power of attorney and appoint a trusted person to protect assets if illness comes up. Ensure finances are protected from others who might try to take advantage. A record of money given away, and a note designating it as a loan or a gift, is helpful in disputes.
Legal advice is necessary before making major decisions about the home and other property. Joint bank account are potentially hazardous. The other person can withdraw all funds without permission.
Never become isolated.