HOME is where the heart is.
Except when you get old and your nearest and dearest trick you into granting them power of attorney and commandeer your life savings and property.
Unfortunately, financial abuse of seniors is becoming more widespread, and its often greedy offspring who are the most likely to rip you off.
According to Advocare, which launched the WA elder abuse hotline in 2014, financial abuse (34 per cent) and psychological abuse (33 per cent) were the most common forms of elderly abuse, with adult children being the most likely perpetrators.
Perth lawyer John Hammond says he is encountering more and more cases of elderly abuse and they usually involve greedy sons, daughters, nieces or nephews that can’t wait to get their hands on their elderly relation’s booty.
“I have been told of family members stealing cash, jewellery, cars and other assets from the elderly,” he says.
“I am aware of assets being fraudulently transferred e.g. houses worth millions of dollars, and family members forging their parents’ signatures to transfer assets.
“And I’ve heard of family members acting unconscionably, to the extent of forcing their elderly mum to live with them in her declining years and using that proximity to pressure mum to change her will in their favour.”
WA aged care resident, “Gwen”, is one of the many who have suffered financial abuse and been helped by Advocare.
She was in hospital having major surgery when she appointed her son, who lived interstate, enduring power of attorney.
After recovering from the op, she wanted to take control back of her finances, and discovered that financial abuse had taken place.
Advocare assisted her in revoking her son’s EPA and changes were made to her banking arrangements to ensure that her son no longer had access to her accounts.
The WA government is so concerned about elderly financial abuse it has launched an inquiry into the issue, to be tabled in parliament on September 13.
The inquiry has so far been told that an estimated one in 20 of WA’s 350,000 seniors will have experienced violence, exploitation or neglect, often perpetrated by a family member.
WA seniors minister Mick Murray says he is is working to expedite legislation that would provide more financial protection for seniors.
“Advice from the office of the attorney general is that the investigation of policy options to expedite amending enduring powers of attorney and guardianship laws are currently underway,” he says.
“Work has already begun to scope development of an education program for professionals who frequently work with seniors, so that they are better able to identify possible elder abuse and to help victims access relevant support services.
“Funding for the elder abuse helpline has already been extended to 31 December, 2018.”
Mr Hammond says that the laws to protect the elderly from financial abuse are already quite comprehensive.
“The State Administrative Tribunal has broad powers to remove attorneys (under enduring powers of attorney and enduring powers of guardianship) where a party is acting improperly—don’t wait to file at SAT if this is occurring,” he says.
And he’s got a few tips for those worried about potential abuse:
• consult a lawyer and never in the presence of your family members (who may have interests adverse to yours);
• seek independent accounting advice;
• make sure you have an up-to-date will and the will reflects your current wishes;
• review your will every 5 years;
• consider whether you require a power of attorney in the event that you are physically and or mentally incapacitated;
• prepare a list of your assets and liabilities in an easy-to-read format for your advisors;
• trust is absolutely vital—if you have doubts, your doubts are generally right! Only trust those you know will do the right thing to manage your estate.
You can call Advocare’s WA Elder abuse helpline on 1300 724 679.