One out of every 20 American seniors is a victim of financial abuse. Still, experts fear the impact is much more severe as many seniors don’t report being victimized, fearing that they will lose their independence.
A 2015 study on elder financial abuse says only one out of every 44 cases of financial abuse is reported and that $36 billion is stolen from elderly citizens each year in the United States. The National Adult Protective Services Association says the perpetrator is usually someone the victim trusts.
Who manages financial matters for vulnerable seniors?
Fiduciaries are people who agree to oversee the financial affairs of another person acting in their best interests. They include family members, trusted friends, guardians, attorneys and other professionals.
Unfortunately, there is no uniform system in place to monitor the actions of all fiduciaries. Guardians appointed by a court must submit annual reports, but oversight for other agents does not exist in many cases or varies depending upon the arrangement.
What are the signs?
There are many warning signs of abuse by a fiduciary, and it’s essential to follow up on your suspicions and intervene if you spot them. They include:
- A senior complaining of having little money, running out of medications, lacking suitable clothing or losing valuable personal items
- Someone who is isolated by a person who exerts excessive control over their care, purchases and finances
- A senior who buys numerous and costly items for home improvement, landscaping and repairs
- A senior whose utilities or other services are suspended due to a lack of payment
Protections you can put in place
To keep yourself or a loved one from being the victim of financial abuse, you can take several steps, including having others you trust monitor the activities of the fiduciary as well as reviewing bill-paying and other caregiving activities.
Contacting an experienced elder law attorney can help put a system in place, such as ensuring that all estate planning documents are in order, and executing important documents, such as an advance health care directive and a durable power of attorney.