We hear much today about elder abuse but most people think in terms of mistreatment in nursing homes, which gives rise to the anxiety associated with moving into a full-time facility.
Some adult children will go to extreme lengths to keep an elderly parent at home and it is not always out of love. Abuse more frequently happens at home where there is less oversight.
Financial exploitation is the most common form of non-physical elder abuse and it is estimated that more than 5 million Americans are at risk each year. It is so prevalent that it was recently the topic of the Dr. Phil Show, which may help to raise awareness.
Financial abuse is usually conducted by a trusted family member, often an adult child. The individual will take charge of the elder’s finances as a means of ‘helping’ them, but in reality, they are robbing them.
The primary caregiver for an elder is usually a family member who handles their Social Security or pension income, insurance policies, bank accounts, medicare benefits, and investments. Additional assests would be personal property such as a home and all its contents.
The abuser may siphon the money through what initially appears to be harmless actions: ask for a small loan; combine their grocery list with that of the elder or purchase a special chair to make pappy comfortable when visiting their home.
What is not so obvious is that the loans get bigger and the re-payment becomes smaller; the purchase goes to the abuser (such as a car to transport the elder); costs for gasoline to visit the elder or take them to the doctor with errands for the abuser tacked on; personal vacations for the caregiver who wants time-out; and lavish gifts. Items of value may inexplicably disappear from the elder's home and be sold for cash.
The list can be creative and endless. When the elder asks about his/her finances, the abuser will put them off with vague responses such as,“Oh, you’re in good shape," or “I’ll check your bank statement and let you know.” The abuser may be evasive or defensive, but under no circumstances will they produce a financial accounting.
As the abuser feels emboldened, the abuse escalates to the point that they use the elder as a human ATM machine and may even coerce them into changing their Power of Attorney or Will to exclude other family members. This is done not only out of greed but also to circumvent any in-depth review of the finances by those who may have questions. Afterall, if someone is embezzling money, the last thing they want is an accountant going through the books.
Family members who abuse an elder may include a spouse, adult children and grandchildren. They may feel justified, telling themselves they are only taking what they will eventually inherit anyway. Or they may take money or property to prevent other family members from getting the money, or for fear that their inheritance may be lost due to cost of treating illnesses.
The adult child who financially abuses his/her parent may have a psychological illness, drug addicition, selfish sense of entitlement, or simply have an urge to control. They may be responding to coercion by their spouse and may exhibit signs of restrained rage. Often it is the so-called 'favored child' who commits such acts of abuse. Whatever the motivation, the behavior is legally and morally reprehensible.
If anyone in your family ever states, “Pappy doesn’t want any of his money going to a nursing home,” take it as a sign your loved one is being exploited and start asking pointed questions.
Most financial abuse is apparent to anyone who is looking and goes unreported simply because we don't want to believe that people we love and trust are dishonest and abusive to those who gave them life.