Pattie Lovett-Reid: How to prevent financial abuse of seniors
Today is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
Countries around the world are expected to see substantial growth in the number of senior citizens. Sadly, as the number of elders grow, abuse is expected to grow with it.
There have been reports drawing specific attention to financial exploitation, with anywhere from five to 10 per cent of older people globally impacted. However, such abuse often goes unreported — in part due to embarrassment of the victims, or many cases, an inability to report it due to cognitive and other impairments.
We need to understand what elder abuse looks like. This isn’t just about fraud targeting unsuspecting seniors. In many cases, it is a family member, caregiver or friends taking advantage of an elderly person’s finances.
According to Leanne Kaufman, head of Estate and Trust Services at RBC, “we need to spot the red flags.” A big one is the new “friend.” Suddenly, a new friend, companion or romantic interest appears on the scene and begins attending meetings with financial advisors or lawyers. Watch for unusual purchases or shopping online when it’s never been their habit. Isolation, such as pulling away from social networks or spending too much time with one person, could be a warning.
The best way to protect against elder financial abuse is to put a plan in place early on, according to Kaufman. Begin by appointing a proper financial power of attorney. But here too you have to be careful and realistic. The attorney should be trustworthy, live in the same geographic area, and most of all, have the seniors best interests at heart. And if it gets sticky, the best way to mitigate family issues or tensions would be to appoint a corporate attorney, who can oversee spending, asset allocation and distributions to family members. The cost of a corporate attorney may well be worth the expense as they will be held to very high standards and not influenced by people’s opinions.