There was an article about financial abuse of elders in the Age on 1st April.
Unfortunately, this was just one of several similar stories published in recent times.
It drew attention to this ever increasing problem.
Monash University has been conducting a study on this abuse. On the limited data available to it at present, indications are that older women were more likely to be victims than men, and the most likely perpetrators were sons, followed by daughters, then guardians, followed by other family members.
One of the common forms of abuse was the improper use of powers of attorney.
Although such abuse is often very difficult to identify because the victim is invariably elderly, trusting, vulnerable and possibly suffering from some dementia, there are some things that can be done to minimise the risk of abuse occurring. I will mention just a couple.
Careful consideration of who is appointed attorney under power of attorney is critical. It may be appropriate to appoint two attorneys, at least one of whom is not within the category of persons mentioned who are the most likely to abuse. It may also be appropriate in the power of attorney to require that both attorneys sign, rather than one or the other.
It may also be appropriate, in an enduring power of attorney (one that survives the incapacity of the person giving the power) to make a requirement that the power only commences upon incapacity.
If abuse has already occurred, and the victim still has legal capacity, the victim may wish to change his or her Will to exclude the abuser, if a close family member who might otherwise have benefited. This is a way to “even things up” in a much more subtle way than taking some other form of more direct action that the victim may be reluctant to take.
This is a big issue which I am sure we will be encountering more and more as the population ages.
© Peter Gauld LL.B.
Peter J. R. Gauld LL.B
Gauld & Co. Elder Law Solicitors
Suite 5, 1st Floor,
838 Glenferrie Road,
Hawthorn, Melbourne, Australia, 3122.
03 9024 3868
0401 230 711