One of the most traumatic times in anyone’s life is seeing a parent reach the end of life. We want to make them comfortable, ease their worries and spend as much time as possible with them. But what happens if a sibling or other loved one begins taking advantage of a parent simply because he or she’s been given power of attorney? Elder financial abuse is one of the fastest growing crimes in the U.S.
A power of attorney is a legal document put into place to give a trusted individual the authority to handle financial or health matters for the person creating it. Usually, those named indeed honor the wishes of his or her loved one. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case though and it can be difficult and even infuriating to feel as though you have no power to protect a parent.
For some, it’s just too big of a temptation to avoid stealing or otherwise abusing the trust that’s been placed into them.
It’s estimated that older Americans lose at least $2.9 billion every year due to financial abuse. Worse, those numbers are expected to grow as more baby boomers continue to age. So serious is the problem is that in 2013, the Administration on Aging named it the “Year of Elder Abuse Prevention” in an effort of raising awareness of all types of abuse at the national, state and local levels.
One of the saddest aspects is that so many victims don’t report the abuse. It’s difficult to admit an adult son or daughter is responsible for such a crime. This makes it difficult to gather accurate numbers as well as understanding why it’s so prevalent. Earlier this year, the Government Accountability Office released its report on elder financial exploitation. It showed that power of attorney agents as the sole type of abuser whose crimes are particularly challenging to prosecute.
Accounting for more than one third of financial abusers, it’s often family members, friends, and neighbors who have free rein over an elderly person’s finances. The fraud might include stolen cash or credit cards, or worse.
Our Role as Elder Care Attorneys
As elder care lawyers, we know how crucial financial planning is for an older person. Making every penny count, especially considering the limited incomes and tight budgets most seniors balance, is absolutely crucial. There are few things harder to grasp than to see an elder care client who’s entire estate planning efforts were wiped away because of an unethical loved one who was not above stealing from a vulnerable family member.
A team approach is often the best proactive effort. When family members are working with their loved one and sharing information, they’re stronger as a unit and anyone seeking to cause harm is less likely to succeed. Also, when a client shares information regarding who his estate planning attorney is, what kind of powers of attorney are in place and other important legal information (provided that loved feels comfortable in doing so), the odds of falling victim to an unscrupulous thief are much lower.
Ask your mother if she’s signed any documents under duress or if she feels uncomfortable around any one person. Ask her to share information regarding her doctor and lawyer and encourage her to keep you and other family members in the loop so that you can recognize any efforts of someone else trying to take advantage of your loved one.
Abusing the Power of Attorney
A documentary released in 2010 can show just how heartbreaking these scenarios can become. Pamela Glasner was able to retell the story of her parents and how they lost everything to someone they trusted. Her parents had relocated to Florida after they retired and met a man at their synagogue, who wasted no time convincing them to sign a power of attorney, which he then used to steal money from their bank accounts. He was able to continue his embezzlement efforts even after the couple moved into a nursing home. He’d convinced the nursing home staff that he was the couple’s son.
He not only stole all of their cash from the bank, but even managed to steal the couple’s home. “By the time we found out about it,” Glasner said, “all of our accounts were zeroed out.” Glasner’s documentary is titled “Last Will and Embezzlement” and can be an ideal conversation starter for your family.