Financial abuse can be difficult to detect, given the often private nature of peoples’ finances. It can be even harder to safeguard the elderly who may not have capacity to look after themselves and know what is going on with their money or other assets.
The Australian Institute of Family Studies reports that up to 14% of seniors experience some kind of abuse and that financial abuse is the most common form. Even more disturbingly, approximately 85% of elder financial abuse is committed by family (with children of the elder accounting for 50% of this).
In this blog, we’ll help you to understand what elder financial abuse is, how you can recognise the signs, and what actions to take if you suspect elder financial abuse is happening to someone you love.
What is elder financial abuse?
Financial elder abuse is defined as someone who takes or misuses an elderly person's money, assets or property without their consent.
It’s a form of elder abuse and family violence and can often happen in conjunction with other types of violence like:
- Emotional manipulation
- Intimidation, or
- Physical, sexual or psychological abuse
Unfortunately, there are a number of reasons why elderly people suffer elder financial abuse:
- They may not expect a loved one to take advantage of them;
- They may not understand the technology involved with managing their money or assets;
- They may not have mental capacity or be in a position to stop the abuse; or
- They may not want to involve the police or get their family member in trouble.
What are the signs of financial abuse of elderly people?
If you suspect an elderly family member, friend or patient is being abused financially, there are some telltale signs to look out for, including:
- Cheques or bank statements addressed to the abuser
- Forged signature on legal or financial documents
- Unexplained transfers of money or property
- Changes to the elder’s will or power of attorney
- Unpaid bills or housing stress
- A drop in the standard of care being paid for
- Belongings or bank cards going missing
- The elder is uncomfortable around the person who manages their finances or lives with them
- Signs of physical or emotional stress.
If you are a health care worker and suspect your patient is suffering from financial abuse, whether it is by another health care worker or a family member, you may be wondering what to do. We have shared some tips on what to do if you suspect elder abuse and how to report it here.
Our Client, Dragan’s Story
Shine Lawyers was recently able to help a 90-year-old grandfather who lost his life savings and home to someone he trusted.
Dragan Jurisic generously purchased a house for his granddaughter and her family, on the condition he would be able to live there for the rest of his life. After only six months, his granddaughter reneged on her promise, abandoned him in hospital and refused to allow him to return to his own home.
Without a home of his own, he was forced to move in with his grandson.
Dragan had heard about Shine helping people in similar situations and running these cases on a No Win, No Fee basis, so to try and regain his home, Dragan contacted the Shine Lawyers’ Estate Litigation team.
How we were able to help
Rebecca O’Toole, Practice Leader of Estate Litigation, and her team immediately took legal action on behalf of Dragan to reclaim what was rightfully his.
This started with quickly lodging a caveat to protect Dragan’s property from being disposed of by his granddaughter. During this time many attempts to negotiate a resolution with the granddaughter resulted in no avail, leading Rebecca’s team to pursue Dragan’s case in the District Court.
Despite the complexities around Dragan’s case, the team were determined to fight for the return of his property and safeguard his retirement.
By applying constant pressure to the defendant throughout the legal process, our team obtained evidence that allowed us to negotiate a successful outcome before having to proceed to formal mediation.
“Rebecca helped me to be able to buy a home again for me to live in the rest of my days,” says Dragan.
Situations like Dragan’s are sadly too common among Australia’s elderly citizens, who are vulnerable to financial elder abuse. Our team will do everything they can for victims of abuse and fight to get the outcomes that truly matter to our clients.
How to prevent elder financial abuse
There are a number of things you can do to protect yourself or a loved one from financial abuse:
- Never sign documents you don’t understand
- Seek independent legal or financial advice
- Ask someone you trust to check that whoever is managing your money is doing so in your best interests
- If you lend money to someone or allow them to use your assets (like a house), put it in writing. Where applicable make a plan for repayment.
- Learn how to recognise and avoid financial scams
- Talk about any concerns you have with someone you trust
What to do if you suspect elder financial abuse
If you are worried about an elderly family member or friend who you believe is being abused financially, it’s important that you seek professional support.
The laws surrounding Elder Abuse can be complex and may vary from state to state. Our Wills & Estates experts have extensive experience in elder financial abuse law and can guide you through how to protect your loved ones, and their financial assets.
Drawing on years of industry experience, our dedicated team possess the skill and expertise to protect victims of financial abuse on a No Win, No Fee basis*. (Conditions apply)
Written by Shine Lawyers. Last modified: February 16, 2022.