Elder abuse is a serious crime, but it’s not always an easy one to define. Situations which could be classified as “elder abuse” occur throughout different areas of the law. ABC News has called elder abuse a “silent epidemic” in our suburbs, yet a reluctance on the part of victims to report it often leads to a lack of data. Still, the World Health Organisation estimates that each year about one in six people older than 60 fall victim to elder abuse.1 Elder abuse is on the rise in Australia and overseas. Buzz Aldrin, famous for being the second man on the moon, sued his children for elder abuse in June 2018, accusing them of misusing his credit card and taking money from his bank account, among other misdeeds. While shocking stories of nursing home violence have made news in Australia 2, elder abuse doesn’t have to be physical or sexual in nature. As Aldrin’s case proves, older people are particularly vulnerable to being taken advantage of financially.
What is elder abuse?
While there’s no standard definition of elder abuse, one of the most useful ones comes from the World Health Organisation: “elder abuse can be defined as a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action occurring where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person” (United Nations Population Division 2002). Elder abuse can take many forms including physical, sexual, psychological, social and financial, as well as neglect.
Elder Abuse: Financial
Older people can be more vulnerable to financial abuse if they’re dependent on other people to take care of their financial needs. Financial abuse can take many forms. If somebody else uses your bank account without your consent, forces you to change your will, forges your signature or doesn’t pay the bills that you’ve trusted them to pay on time, these are all forms of financial abuse.3
Abuse under Enduring Power of Attorney and Guardianship
Enduring Power of Attorney is when you appoint someone to make financial (and sometimes personal) decisions on your behalf. Your attorney only takes the responsibility when you lose the capacity to make those decisions for yourself. 4 If another person is pressuring you to make them your enduring power of attorney, or the person you’ve appointed enduring power of attorney is not acting in your best interests, this can be classified as financial abuse. In this kind of situation, there are different legal avenues that you can take. The Office of Public Guardian can suspend the appointment of an attorney when there is reasonable evidence of incompetence, and the Queensland Civil Administrative Tribunal (QCAT) can remove, appoint and change the Power of Attorney’s terms. 5 6
Are you a victim of financial abuse or another kind of elder abuse?
If you or someone you know is a victim of elder abuse by family or any other party, Shine Lawyers can help you. Contact our Wills and Estates team to speak to experts in elder abuse legislation: https://www.shine.com.au/service/wills-estate-law.
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: September 28, 2018.