Elder Financial Abuse

As the wealthiest segment of our population ages, instances of elder financial abuse will be on the rise. Whenever elder financial abuse is suspected, it should be immediately reported. What is elder financial abuse? Elder financial abuse is broadly defined as the theft or taking of money or property from an elder or senior citizen.

In 2009, California amended its Elder Abuse laws to include the taking money from an elder through the use of undue influence. Elder abusers can also include those who help or assist in the financial abuse of an elder.

What should you do if you suspect elder abuse?

Members of the public are encouraged to report instances of elder abuse to local law enforcement or adult protective services. If a financial institution reasonably suspects that there has been elder financial abuse, they are required by law to report the abuse. Victims of financial abuse can also take legal action against the abuser and anyone that has assisted them. Warning signs of elder financial abuse:

  • The elder person develops a new close relationship with someone who offers to manage their finances and assets.
  • Family members or caregivers isolate the elder and restrict the person’s contact with others and closely regulate/monitor the elder’s visitors.
  • The elder is confused, forgetful, frightened, withdrawn or secretive.
  • The appearance of suspicious spending patterns, withdrawals or financial activity in the elder’s bank or brokerage accounts.
  • The elder has made an investment that they do not understand or that appears inappropriate, particularly investments that charge high fees/commissions or impose early withdrawal penalties.
  • Signatures on checks or forms do not resemble the elder’s or the information on the form is incorrect.

Fiduciaries such as investment advisors, trustees or conservators should be wary of any family member, caregiver or newcomer who has taken a sudden interest in an elderly person’s financial affairs. Obvious red flags include the following: (1) sudden changes to an elderly person’s estate plan; (2) a newly created power of attorney for a bank or brokerage account; or (3) the appointment of a co-trustee for a bank or brokerage account.

Immediately report any instance of elder abuse to Adult Protective Services or the police department. Many states make it mandatory for financial institutions to report suspected financial elder abuse. Remember, anyone who assists in the financial abuse of an elder, may also be liable.

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