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Financial Abuse: A Real Concern For the Elderly

Feb 26, 2016 - Personal Injury, Tuscaloosa by

Physical abuse of the elderly is a recognized issue for seniors placed in the care of others, whether in nursing homes or through in-home care. Even individuals who receive acceptable levels of physical care, however, may be victims of financial abuse. When the money runs out, the physical care ends as well.

Certain Alabama statutes now recognize the crime of elder financial abuse and impose penalties, but each Tuscaloosa injury attorney at our firm believes that more preventive types of laws might help seniors avoid destroying their golden years.

Three Common Forms of an Underreported and Growing Crime

No accurate statistics identify the severity of the senior elder abuse problem, but most experts in the field agree that it is underreported. During a time when increasing numbers of aging baby-boomers now need senior care, the problem is undoubtedly getting worse. Recent estimates indicate that seniors might be losing an average of $30,000 from financial abuse. The following three types of financial abuse are most common:

  • Nursing home theft: Elderly individuals living in residential care have virtually no privacy or security. Caregivers and even other residents have full and frequent access to rooms, making them ripe for theft of everything from personal valuables to financial documents.
  • Phone and computer scams: Anyone living at home is susceptible to scammers who prey on them over the phone, at the door or on their computers. Scammers often count on even minor diminished mental capacity of individuals who willingly hand over massive amounts of money, with no paper trail available to try to recoup losses.
  • Caregiver exploitation: Placing someone in charge of senior in-home care presents countless opportunities for financial abuse. Whether the caregivers are family members or hired from agencies, these individuals can develop the trust of the individuals they care for, making it relatively easy to access bank accounts, change wills and obtain power of attorney.

A recent article from NBC News details this growing problem and tells a tragic tale about an elderly couple who had properly prepared for their retirement, but lost their home and savings to a live-in caregiver. By attaining power of attorney, she took meticulous action to clean out all but $375 — the value of their bank account when they died within a month of each other.

Legislatively Defining the Crime is Not as Good as Preventing It

Many state legislators have started recognizing various forms of elder abuse as crimes. Alabama state statutes, for example, now define elder abuse and impose penalties for parties convicted of the crime. While this type of legislation is an important first step, it does little to save the elderly by stopping these crimes before they happen.

California has taken a more proactive approach to actually prevent financial abuse before it destroys the lives of senior victims. Under that state’s laws, certain parties who are in a position to notice financial exploitation against seniors (such as bankers, clergy and health care providers) are required to report those acts. If well-enforced, laws like this one can go a long way toward reducing the elder financial abuse problem.

Still, financial abuse is often difficult to detect, and even financial experts may not recognize its signs. Family members need to spare no effort when keeping a watchful eye over the financial concerns of their elderly loved ones to help ensure that financial and legal power do not slip away to other individuals. At the first signs of possible financial abuse, talk with an experienced attorney who can recognize reasons for concern and help put an end to it.

Additional Resources:

Financial Abuse, National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

Top 10 Financial Scams Targeting Seniors, National Council on Aging

Other Blog topics

How an Injury Attorney Can Assist with Nursing Home Abuse Situations, Tuscaloosa Nursing Home Neglect blog

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