Elder abuse is, unfortunately, an all-too-common occurrence in our country. In fact, the National Council on Aging estimates that as many as 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 has been victimized by some form of elder abuse (most commonly, this occurs as some variation of financial exploitation). What many people fail to realize, though, is a large majority of such incidents involved a member of the senior’s family. The following changes in a senior’s daily life (which usually occur abruptly) should always be viewed with a skeptical eye, until proven otherwise:
1. A younger, “caretaking” family member becomes secretive about the older individual’s finances. If such an individual was once forthcoming about the senior’s finances but eventually, whether slowly or abruptly, becomes hesitant to share information with others, loved ones should question this change. That being said, there are times where the person who is losing access to the senior’s financial circumstances is also the same individual who has, for good reason, lost the trust of the senior and/or surrounding family.
2. A family member decides to move in with an elderly family member. There is nothing inherently wrong with an adult child, for example, moving in with his/her parent. In fact, this living arrangement is often crucial in helping the parent avoid a transition into a skilled-nursing facility. However, it can be worrisome if the child has inadequate personal financial resources; such a scenario may present the child with a temptation to co-manage the household income and assets. Look out for a scenario where the older roommate either begins assuming financial responsibility for the child’s own bills or, even further, adds the child as a co-signer or co-owner to bank accounts.
3. A family member begins to physically isolate the older individual from other family members or friends. On one hand, there may be valid reasons for a family member to hesitate to allow others to see the senior’s living conditions or health decline. On the other hand, the child may be shielding others from a reduction in the senior’s assets or other valuable belongings. Another common red flag involves a caretaker’s unwillingness to allow the senior to enjoy one-on-one time with others.
4. The senior decides to make some changes to estate planning documents despite no major changes in circumstances (especially if the attorney meetings were arranged by or attended by the potential abuser). As estate planners, it is imperative we take steps to make sure that any changes are, in fact, truly desired and requested by the senior. Whenever we are approached by someone other than the senior regarding the senior’s ownplanning, we have measures in place regarding our potential representation. This may include forbidding the younger family member from attending the meeting and always includes a direct one-on-one discussion with the senior regarding whether he/she truly understands the discussed changes (and the repercussions of such changes). In other situations, we may take even more drastic measures, especially if the senior’s legal capacity is questionable or if we suspect third-party coercion.
5. The senior is abruptly moved from one residence to another without notice or discussion with multiple family members. The decision to relocate an elderly person must always be a well-thought out one rooted in extensive discussion and an evaluation of the respective pros and cons. Further, there should always be an assessment of the suitability of the potential new residence as well as the health and stress impact a move may have on the senior. Simply put, there is rarely good reason for one decision-maker to abruptly uproot a parent without first consulting the parent’s other family members, health care providers, and/or professional counselors.
If you suspect a senior may be the victim of elder abuse, please consider contacting an Elder Law attorney or, if appropriate, Arizona Adult Protective Services.
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