Protection from Financial Elder Abuse

by Janice Wallace

Protecting your parent from financial elder abuse is an important parent care responsibility.  This type of abuse robs your parent of her moneyfinance, elder finance abuse and her freedom because money equals choice when it comes to elder care services. Financial elder abuse is defined as a person taking an elder’s money or property for his/her own needs.

Abusers sometimes use threats of abandonment or make the elder feel guilty to convince the elder to turn the control of assets over to them.  Sometimes, “feel good” tactics are used.  The abuser befriends a lonely senior in person or over the phone or taps into greed by convincing the senior that he has won a prize.

Financial elder abuse warning signs

  • Caregivers or family members who isolate the senior or speak for the senior
  • Increased withdrawals or credit card charges
  • Access to the elder’s account in ways that doesn’t match their abilities, for example a homebound senior making ATM withdrawals

Steps to protect against financial elder abuse:

  • Protect your parents’ sensitive financial information from identity theft by securing blank checks, bank and brokerage statements and credit cards if you have service providers in their home.
  • Shred incoming credit card applications and other unused financial documents.
  • Monitor your parent’s accounts for unusual activity
  • Discuss common financial scams with your parent.  The police department will have more information about scams that are going on in your local area.

Sadly, this abuse is sometimes committed by family members.  If your parent care responsibilities include serving as your parent’s agent in their power of attorney for finance, it is your responsibility to make sure your parent’s money is only used for their benefit.  This may mean some tough conversations with family members and your parents around loans and monetary gifts.

It’s important as a family to discuss your parent care values around protecting your parents’ money.  You can create a family agreement that outlines acceptable behavior based on your family values.  It might have some of these elements:

As a family we agree that

  • Mom and dad’s money is for their use and pleasure
  • We will not accept loans or large monetary gifts from mom and dad unless it is part of a well thought out estate planning strategy

Has your parent been the victim of financial elder abuse?  Tell us how you dealt with it.

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36 Responses

  1. I was really blessed to have parents who planned ahead and included me in the planning process, making it easy for me to help and making sure both parents were well protected and cared for. These kinds of articles make me doubly glad for their wise foresight! :)
  2. Hi Kaye, Thanks for your comments. I agree parents who have the foresight to plan are a blessing to their children. The hard part is creating some checks and balances so that everyone in the family is comfortable and knows what is going on. When anyone signs a power of attorney for finance or names a successor trustee for their living trust, it is a great leap of trust in the person they have appointed.
  3. Our family is going through an issue right now trying to find out what to do about a daughter who 'cleaned out' and left her mother bankrupt in death. We can track that she misused her credit and debit cards, and it is too late to recover any money for the grandchildren, but we are so angry at the daughter. It is making it very difficult to deal with and has torn the family apart. The daughter has told lies to her children who are now mad at us for finding out what she did. We don't know whether to turn it over to the police or to provide the daughter's children with proof of what her mother did. Any help or advice would be appreciated.
  4. admin
    Your Message<a class="replyTo" href="#comment-2160" rel="nofollow">@Shay Grazen:</a I think I'd talk to your family lawyer and see what he/she advises. EIther way, I'd like to tell you that my thoughts are with you. It is hard enough to lose someone, but to also deal with the additional issues must be really tough.</a>
  5. Hi Shay, I'm so sorry to hear about what happened to your family. I agree that discussing this with an elderlaw attorney is a good step. Any solution that you seek, be thinking about how you can heal yourself and your family from what has happened. Take care, Janice
  6. My parents set my older sisters up as Trustees in the Family Trust since I was the youngest and not as business savvy as they were. They trusted them. I am a successor Trustee. After my parents moved in with my middle sister, she took away their credit cards and telephone and created huge obstacles to my being able to visit them. The Trust allowed for my sister's and parent's physician to be the sole judge of my parent's competency so they were declared incompetent. My name was then either taken off of HIPAA forms or never put on them. The initial reason my parents moved in with my sister was so that they would not have to go into a nursing home and so that she and her husband would care for them instead. She and her husband were given my parents Health Care Power of Attorney. A $9K/month income could not pay for the $20K/month outgo for privatized medical care that my sister arranged for them instead of her caring for them which ate into their savings in a big way. Family mortgages got paid off including mine which my husband refused but couldn't stop. Two months after being placed in Hospice care, my Dad, an ex-cop declared he was being poisoned. Noting was done about it; believe me, I tried. It was chalked up to delirium which my Dad's Hospice nurse said he saw no evidence of. He quit working for the Hospice the same day one of my Dad's private caregivers pulled me aside during one of my rarely allowed visits and told me she was quitting because she could no longer stand to watch my brother-in-law over-medicating my Dad. Instead of that health care worker being applauded for her action, she was reported to her superior by my sister and brother-in-law for failure to administer the meds they gave her to give to my Dad. She will probably never get to work in the medical field again. My Dad has since passed away. Only my Mom remains in that house. Both of my sisters have blocked all communication from me to them. I don't know if I'll be allowed to see my Mom anymore at all or be allowed to talk to her on the phone. I don't know if the Trust has been being mismanaged nor can I find out without hiring an attorney which I can not afford and could be construed as an attack on the Trust according to how it is written and, frankly, what would be the point? It's too late to save what I cared about most, my Mom and Dad. My point is that even the wisest and most business savvy people like my parents can make mistakes. Living Trusts are only as good as the people you put in charge of them and the same goes for Health Care Powers of Attorney.
  7. admin
    Your Message<a class="replyTo" href="#comment-2327" rel="nofollow">@Robin:</a> Robin, it is difficult to watch how some things play out in life. You sound like you have a realistic grasp on the situation and have done all you can do without doing any harm. There are some legal aid societies that offer free legal help. You might talk to someone like that, but again, such options have to be weighed to determine whether they do more harm than good.
  8. Robin, What a difficult situation. My heart goes out to your and your family. You make a truly excellent point that not only should the people appointed as successor trustees and attorneys in fact be trustworthy but that some types of safeguards or double checks need to be put in place as well. Sadly when money is involved, things can change inside a family.
  9. What can be done about obvious financial elder abuse? There is a situation where the youngest son is living off the retirement income of his mother placing the entire burden of her care on her husband (not his father). When it is so blatant, what can be done about it?
  10. The mother can choose to spend her money anyway she wants including giving it all to her son. I agree that it's not fair to her husband but that is really a matter between husband and wife. This is all said assuming that the mother is competent. If the husband has heirs of his own, for example children from a previous marriage, they should speak to him about his estate plan. Again it's his money to spend as he likes, if he is competent and chooses to spend all his assets on his wife and himself, that is his choice. Financial elder abuse occurs when financial resources are taken away from a senior by fraud or coercion or from a senior who is not competent to make financial decisions. Making poor choices like supporting an adult child at the risk of the senior's own financial well being is just that...a bad choice. If you feel the mother or father is being bullied or persuaded in some way to agree to this arrangement or is not competent to be making financial decisions then you can report it to Adult Protective Services or police in their town.
  11. My older sister coerced my mother into giving her $675,000. which she said she owed her. The truth is my sister has been living off of my mother for 30 years and she owes my mother over 2 million dollars but because she was not competent she gave my sister the money tax free! Now my mother is broke because my sister took the money she was supposed to live on and my mother is being evicted from the facilitiy where I just paid $145,000 of my own money to pay off her condo.!! My sister says the money is gone and she doesn't have it but she wontt shoe me her bank records to prove it and I know she is hoarding it so she can live off it after my mother dies. My sister is bleeding me dry of my own money and I didn't even get anything from my mothers estate becuase my sister spent it all and then is lying about the $675,000 she stole. What can I do to resolve this ?
  12. I'm so sorry for your situation. I would recommend that you retain an elder law attorney, NAELA National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys is a great resource for finding an expert. What has happened to your mother is a crime. Let your attorney guide you through the right next steps to report it and take legal action.
  13. Your Message<a href="#comment-2642" rel="nofollow">@Janice Wallace:</a> Thank you for your advice, I am living in Utah and my mother and sister are in Illinois. Is there an agency I can report this tto in Illinois? I would like to have the state investigate the situation if possible so that it is out of my hands and I don't have to deal with my sister and her threats and phonecalls,
  14. Here is a link to the Illinois state website for information about reporting elder abuse. You are able to report the situation and your identity will be kept confidential or you can report it anonymously. Each state website has a section for seniors or aging. A great place to find all sorts of information about help for seniors even if you as the adult child live in another state.
  15. Even though I'm Power of Attorney, I've had to sit by and watch my brother steal about $30K from my mother (now in hospice) during the last few years. He lives with her which is to his advantage. I've conducted much research on my brother, discovering such things as court judgments against him and he has an alias (he's driving on a suspended license, so got a new one under the alias). It's a complicated matter, but the bottom line is I can do nothing unless he's incarcerated (or the police get involved on their own). As long as he's in the house, any action I take will have a negative affect on my mother (I intervened once and it was a a disaster). At this point she's almost broke, so not really worth the aggravation. It just burns me that he's getting away with several crimes and after she dies, he gets the house. There needs to be a way to anonymously report the abuse. I have plenty of evidence.
  16. Mom has given and keeps giving money to my brother whom she lives with. It is a physically and mentally abusive situation which I need to remove her from but there is no money. I've been told a power of attorney will protect her social security check but am afraid this will only make him more angry. Isn't there a "safehouse" for elders and courts to force the sale of my brother's property so she can get back the over $100,000 plus interest he owes her? She feels he is suicidal so keeps giving him her money. It's not fair! I am afraid he is going to hurt her but she keeps protecting him. Isn't this elder abuse?
  17. admin
    Your Message Alee, I would seek the advise of an eldercare lawyer or geriatric care manager immediately.
  18. Your Message<a href="#comment-2160" rel="nofollow">@Shay Grazen:</a> This happened in our family. I am a daugher-in-law and found it out by accident and alerted the family of what I had found out. The amount ended up over $500,000. The family decided to go thru a lawyer rather than the prosecuting attorney. It is more expensive but keeps the bad person out of prison. Never went to court. Arbitration settled it all. Judge was fantastic. The bad daughter has not changed and the family wishes they had gone thru the prosecuting attorney. The family was able to get the money back which the bad daughter had invested in her name and names of friends. We were very lucky. She did not hide things well enough. You must deal with this either thru the prosecuting attorney or thru a lawyer. How can you sanction stealing?
  19. Allie, Thanks for your passionate note and for adding a note of hope to this discussion. It's not easy or pleasant to confront elder abuse especially when it's committed by a member of the family. More families need to take action through legal means to stop family members from being ripped off.
  20. The State of Arizona is financially abusing my mother! It goes like this; Three years prior to my moving in to help her, she lost her driving privileges. Ok, so I get the house in order, but she had obvious dementia problems. She wouldn’t (couldn’t) give me financial control and everything was a mess. Utility reconnect fees and monthly service interruptions were constant. She could not care for her self. I had her evaluated and expected the state to honor the Living Will which makes me successor Trustee if she is incompetent. I have no siblings to contend with and I am single. I have no debts and money in the bank. My only intention is to manage my mother’s assets and care for her with dignity and respect in the most cost effective manor. She has no long term insurance. So the State required she be assigned a lawyer that she has to pay for and the case goes to Probate Court. Right from the start her lawyer acts like an advocate for the state and takes an adversarial position with me. Mother doesn’t understand who he is and doesn’t understand he is costing her money. …What a shame. I was appointed Guardian and Conservator, but he’s been trying to get control or something and using my mother’s money to do it with. He’s a real jerk. As if that’s not enough, the commissioner then has her lawyer hire a additional lawyer (Guardian ad litem). The second lawyer costs even more and is twice as aggressive. Now the state has a tag team lawyers working to besmirch me at $650 an hour. The court is crazy with power. I thought the purpose of a trust was to keep thing out of court. There was other stuff they tried to do and backed down on, but not before upsetting the household. Is this Arizona’s way or is everyone else having problems like this too? What gets me is no one wants to address the Trust and this is in a Probate Court. The Trust has provisions for incompetence. Mother and I have always been close, and she said she never wants to go to a convalescent home. I am fine with that even if it’s going to take a lot of work. WE just want the court to leave us alone. I thought I was doing the right thing by going to the court, but it seems they are a group of self appointing vultures. I have done nothing wrong, and have good records for everything. What I believe they are doing is Front-Running the heirs to pile on as much litigation debt as they can before she dies. Then they can force the sale of the home or put liens on it. I have been paid nothing. In fact, I have approximately $17,000 into repairs for her home. I have been paying my own living expenses and providing all transportation at expense. I have 4 years of lost employment opportunity now and my own health is suffering
  21. admin
    Your Message<a class="replyTo" href="#comment-3200" rel="nofollow">@Jeff:</a> Have you spoken to a reputable geriatric care manager or eldercare attorney? It could be an option for you.
  22. Jeff, What a mess! My heart goes out to you and your mother. It sounds like in this whole mess that you are the one who is not represented. It's very unfortunate that your mother has gone through conservatorship proceedings when she had already made arrangements by appointing you as her successor trustee in her living trust. I agree with the previous post that you need some expert advice even though the last thing you probably want to do is speak with another elderlaw attorney. Here's a link to the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys as a way to find a reputable and skilled advocate to help you.
  23. [...] the full article here: [...]
  24. Did anything ever help you? What do you do when you know an edlerly person is a victim of fraud by a family member / spouse they live with? Who should be notified about forged documents, poa’s etc Where do you go to report the notary involved? What else can be done when someone is financilly ruining a person’s life through fraud? I have found all kinds of proof. Using different names, addresses, Birthdates. etc. How can I report this to the VA or the government? ur Message<a href="#comment-2667" rel="nofollow">@John Cronin:</a> <a href="#comment-2327" rel="nofollow">@Robin:</a>
  25. Hi John, Gather what ever proof you might have and report the abuse to the county office of adult protective services where the elder lives. You have the option of reporting anonymously but be aware that anonymous complaints are taken less seriously. Bless you for taking action.
  26. Hi All, I am in a horrible situation with my Mom. She is 68 years old and is basically confined to bed. She is in a lot of pain and just getting up to go to the bathroom is a horrible time consuming ordeal. She even has a colostomy bag. She is in chronic pain for musculoskeletal issues. Her bones are crumbling and I believe she is addicted to Delotid (synthetic morphine). I don't believe that she is capable of executing on basic life decisions (not lucid). Her Filipino caregiver who lives with her RENT FREE has talked my mom into moving to the philipines in exchange for the rest of her money. She is not physically able to make the trip. However, she has decided to go because she does not want to end up in a nursing home. These caregivers want her money and social security checks. He has completely isolated her from the rest of the family. He is on the line every time that I call. I filed with Adult Protective Services and have discussed this with law enforcement officials. Their hands are tied because she is not willing to see a doctor. From what I understand, she has a reservation to go sometime in May. For me to stop this, I have to now go the legal route and this will cost major $. This just sucks! Any ideas? Dwight
    • admin
      Contact your local legal aid society office or possibly an eldercare advocate who might be able to assist you. Best of luck to you.
  27. I experienced having my family abusing my mom financially. One sister took my mom away from another accusing her of financial abuse to turn around and do the same thing but much worse. Fortunately I found out and moved my mom to my house before her IRA was completely drained. Unfortunately my mom wouldn't press charges after I contacted social services here locally but my sister is paying on the credit cards that she opened in my moms name and ran up. Don't always assume that your family has the best intentions. It's been over 6 months and I'm still taking care of financial problems that were created. Always seek immediate legal advice and ask for help from social services. They even came to my house to visit my mom after I contacted them.
  28. Kevin, Thank goodness you stepped in to protect your mother. Your post offers very sound advice. Trust and verify really are the way that families need to proceed when dealing with an elder's money. A regular accounting of account balances plus spending records is a good way to keep other family members in the loop and for each person to be assured that money is being spent for the benefit of the elder. Janice
  29. Your Message<a href="#comment-4116" rel="nofollow">@Dwight:</a> All, a quick update on my mom. Her caregivers ended up taking her to the Philippines. My mom did not even say goodbye to her family. This is a horrible situation as you can all most likely imagine. We were in the first steps towards legally attempting to obtain a conservatorship. However, we could not work fast enough. So my mom is there and there is NOTHING that I can do about it. Do not rely on law enforcement to help. That has been a total waste of time. I have contacted the FBI and everyone else that I can think of. None of us can prove that it was against her will. Dwight
  30. Why don't you call Adult Protecttive Services and let them look into the situation.
  31. Dwight, You and your family must be so worried. Will the US consulate perform some type of welfare check on your mother? You've engaged legal advice which is the most important step here. You might consider where you want to seek some publicity for your mother's situation to help force the issue with officials here and in the Philippines. Have you appealed to state's senator or House members for assistance?
  32. Janice, Thank you so much for responding. It is a brutal situation. Unfortunately, nobody can determine if any laws were broken. In essence, none have which is the tough part even though we KNOW she is sick. We have thought about the publicity route. I believe it would have it's advantages and disadvantages. However, we are still considering it. It would be HUGE news I believe. I like your idea of appealing to the state senator or House. I will definitely take that into consideration. I did contact the FBI a few weeks back. They finally did return my call yesterday. They admit that something is terribly wrong and that they would look into it. I cannot say too much about this. However, it appears that some effort will be taken here on their behalf. I will have to wait and see. In the meantime, I will consider the political options. Sincerely, Dwight
  33. Sarah, With regards to APS, they have not been able to help. They could not force my mom to see a doctor. The laws really protect elders essentially FROM HELP. I have had them involved since Feb as well as detectives at the PD. It has been a CRAZY situation. It is really tough when they state that there is an issue and there is nothing that they can do about it. I often question their ability to actually do something in this situation. Thanks, Dwight
  34. Swight's mom's situation points out the reality of our current legal system. As long as a person is considered a competent adult, a status that is automatically conferred at age 18, he or she can make their own decisions. Even if those decisions put the person at risk, until a court proceeding declares the person incompetent and appoints a guardian. This can be a heart breaking situation for the family just as Dwight has been sharing.
  35. Janice, thanks for raising awareness about this important issue! I am especially glad to see that you warned about family taking advantage of the elderly. I'm amazed at how many articles on elder abuse completely miss pointing out the most common perpetrators of elder abuse! Often when I read about Elder Abuse the writers only point out the "monsters", the extreme cases that make for compelling stories. More often the perpetrators are less extreme. An example I often think of is the Granddaughter who got into the habit of taking Grandmom to the bank to withdraw money for her teen addictions - fortunately in that case Mom was monitoring Grandmom's bank account and put a stop to it!
  36. I'm not sure there can be too much education on elder abuse at this point because it is still an under reported and misunderstood crime. I asked an elderlaw attorney I know about how often family members are the offenders versus strangers or scammers. In her experience...90% of financial elder abusers are family members who think they are entitled to money now instead of waiting for a possible inheritance in the future. Families should agree and the elders should include in their trusts and powers of attorney clauses about how financial information will be shared and documented in the event they become incapacitated.