Elder abuse - are you protected?

24 May 2018

By Shadforth Financial Group

There has been little statistical analysis of elder abuse in Australia. However, the United Nations estimates that five per cent of, or 175,000, older Australians will experience elder abuse during their lifetime1.

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse, followed by psychological or emotional abuse. Sadly, elder abuse is likely to rise with the ageing population and the increasing number of dementia cases among older Australians. This makes it extremely important to protect yourself or your older relatives from elder abuse in the future.

Financial elder abuse — common scenarios 

  • Using powers of attorney to manage an older person’s finances inappropriately.
  • Coercing and applying pressure on an older person to change their Will or to give away assets unfairly in favour of one individual over others.
  • Unethically persuading an older person to sell their house and, for example, contribute some or all of the proceeds to allow their child to purchase a house in exchange for a ‘granny flat’ where the arrangement benefits the child and not the parent or the siblings.
What is an enduring power of attorney?

An enduring power of attorney is a legal document which allows you to nominate someone you trust to make financial and property decisions on your behalf if you, for instance, have an accident, fall ill or lose capacity. The benefit of an enduring power of attorney is that unlike an ordinary power of attorney, it will continue to operate even if you lose full legal mental capacity.

Who are the perpetrators?

Senior Rights Victoria statistics show that two thirds of elder abuse is perpetrated by a son or daughter and 90 per cent of abusers are family members or a person trusted by the older person. Because of this level of trust, those guilty of elder abuse can often hold an enduring power of attorney (EPoA).

Who is vulnerable?

The most vulnerable people are those who have a cognitive impairment, are single, isolated and have adult children or grandchildren who collude to remove assets from the older person due to their need or greed, or to safeguard their ‘inheritance’2.

An EPoA only works when you have honest people looking after your interests, or concerned and honest relatives who are vigilant regarding your overall circumstances.

How to avoid financial elder abuse

An estate planning lawyer can help you avoid elder abuse by assisting with EPoA preparation, incorporating safeguard provisions for two or  more attorneys to be appointed, who are potentially bound to act only in accordance with defined terms and arrangements such as barring  the transfer or sale of a property while they are still living.

If you need help with your estate plan including the preparation of an enduring power of attorney please contact us.

Source: Australian Executor Trustees

1 Senior Rights Service, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2017, 15 June 2017.
2 Government of Western Australia, Department of Justice, Inquiry into elder abuse, 13 November 2017.

Educational guides