Elder Financial Abuse

Why You Should Be Concerned About Changes to a Will

According to Fidelity, a will is, “a legal document that coordinates the distribution of your assets after death.” The will specifies who will carry out the distribution of the assets, who will receive the assets, and how they will receive them. Most people work over a period of time with an attorney to craft a will that fits their wishes for the distribution of their assets. Thus, sudden changes to a will are causes for suspicion and concern.

Changes to an Elder’s Power of Attorney

The Nursing Home Abuse Guide defines the power of attorney, or letter of attorney, as “an authorization in writing to act on another individual’s behalf if the individual is incapable or unwilling.” If a famly member or other person holds a power of attorney for the elder, this person can make decisions on behalf of the elder in specified legal and financial situations. This power should be entrusted to a trustworthy and capable individual. If you suspect a change to the elder’s power of attorney puts it in the hands of someone who is untrustworthy or incapable, you should investigate and act to protect the elder.

What Is Elder Financial Abuse?

An elder may have made the changes to his/her will or power of attorney because of his/her shifting preferences. However, if the elder was deceived, coerced, manipulated, or influenced to sign the will or change their power of attorney, this is a form of financial abuse.

elderly woman with caretaker
Elder Financial Abuse Occurs When a Caretaker Improperly or Illegally Uses Another Individual’s Funds, Assets, or Property

Financial abuse, or financial exploitation, is “improperly or illegally using another individual’s funds, assets, or property”, according to the Nursing Home Abuse Guide. Changing the victim’s will to benefit the abuser or fraudulently changing obtaining the power of attorney are both forms of financial abuse.

Any nursing home patient is susceptible to elder abuse, regardless of their mental/physical health, familial involvement, and level of supervision. However, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, the following factors increase the risk of victimization:

  • Isolation
  • Physical/mental disability
  • Loneliness
  • Lack of familiarity with financial matters

Financial abuse is most commonly committed by people who care for or have control over a nursing home resident. This includes family members, children, close friends, and facility caregivers. People who wish to prey on the elderly may become caregivers to gain access to them.

signing a document
Elder Financial Abuse Can Take The Form of a False or Coerced Signature on a Document

Other Forms of Elderly Financial Abuse

Coercing/manipulating an elder into changing their will or power of attorney are two forms of financial abuse. Other forms of financial abuse include:

  • Stealing money or objects from the elder
  • Forging the elder’s signature on checks or documents
  • Cashing a check without the elder’s permission or authorization

Financial abuse is often coupled with neglect and physical or sexual abuse. If you suspect another type of abuse you should check if financial abuse is also occurring.

Reasons to Report Financial Abuse of the Elderly Cases

Changes in an elder’s will or their power of attorney can complicate financial and legal proceedings and result in the elder’s financial and legal wishes not being carried out correctly. It is important to determine if the changes to the elder’s will or power of attorney are helpful or harmful changes. If the elder previously expressed a desire that contradicts the changes to the documents, ensure that the new changes are what he/she wants.

Financial abuse can have more than just financial consequences. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial exploitation can result in these signs of financial abuse:

Signs of Financial Abuse

  • Severe emotional distress
  • Depression
  • Deterioration of physical health
  • Loss of independence
  • Shortened lifespan

The likelihood of negative consequences of financial abuse increases when this abuse is coupled with neglect or other forms of abuse.

elderly grasped hands
Depression and Withdrawal are Signs of Financial Abuse in Elderly

Preventing Financial Abuse

Follow these tips to help prevent financial abuse of elders:

  • Educate yourself on the warning signs
  • Establish a team approach for taking care of finances
  • Communicate with banks and other financial institutions frequently to watch for suspicious activity
  • Be wary of caregivers who try to isolate an elder
  • Familiarize yourself and the elder with his/her financial and legal documents
  • If the elder reports suspicious activity to you, follow up on it
  • Ask the nursing home if they have trained their staff on the signs and consequences of financial abuse

Learn about financial abuse so you can recognize the warning signs and appropriately handle cases if they occur.

pen and paper waiting for signature on financial document
Caretakers Can Prevent Financial Abuse By Becoming Familiar With Financial Documents

How to Report Elder Financial Abuse

Follow these steps if you suspect the changes to the elder’s will or power of attorney are indications of financial abuse:

  1. If a nursing home worker committed the abuse, report the incident(s) to the manager of the nursing home. Be prepared to take further action if the facility manager does not take steps to remediate the situation.
  2. Reach out to your county’s Adult Protection Service’s office. In New Jersey, you can find this on the Department of Human Services website. In New Jersey, you can also file a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman For the Institutionalized Elderly.
  3. Research your state’s laws. Laws include the definition of financial exploitations, reporting mandates, criminal sanctions, and guidance.
  4. If you believe that the changes in the will or power of attorney were the result of abuse, we suggest having a discussion with one of our attorneys. In New Jersey, we recommend calling Gartenberg Howard at (201) 488-4644.

Your case will be stronger if you can show that the elder was coerced or manipulated or is the victim of theft. If the elder was coerced with regards to a contract or will, talk to a lawyer about whether the document can be voided.

Free Case Evaluation

For a case evaluation call (201) 488-4644 or fill out the form on the right side of this page.

Resources

Abuse and Signs of Unpaid Bills

The Nursing Home Abuse Guide

National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse

National Institute of Justice

Forbes

AutoAccident.com

Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

Fidelity