Sadly, the persons who should love or care for a family member or charge with infirmities or old age, can and do perform terrible acts against their parents and the older people they care for. A trusted child or caregiver can succeed in cheating an elder out of money and property by means of mental, physical and or financial elder abuse. Elder abuse is achieved by coercion and undue influence coupled with the elder's fear of being alone and unassisted. Elders often give in to physical threats that the caregiver will leave them alone, hit them, or not take them to the bathroom. Elders are especially susceptible to emotional threats or fear that the family member will not love or continue to visit them.
The following is a list of things are some of the dangers I have seen during my years of practicing elder law. If you read through the list and recognize what people might try to do to you, you might be better able to withstand their influence or call someone to help you withstand it. Some people to call are listed at the end of this article. You can get their local phone numbers in the front of your phone book or online.
Children and caregivers can and do:
- Try to get their own name put on title of the house, either alone or as joint tenant with right of survivorship. This cuts other siblings off from inheriting the house.
- Try to get authority to write checks on your bank account. This means all the elder's money is usable by the caregiver. One of my clients' caregivers appropriated $45,000 from her charge's bank accounts. A conservator I know took $300,000 from the conservatee's accounts.
- Take the elder to the bank to withdraw funds of which they take control. Frequent bank visits can rapidly deplete the elder's resources.
- Get made joint tenant of a bank account. This means whatever is in the account at the principal's death automatically belongs to the surviving joint tenant. The rest of the kids get none of it.
- Try to get annuities or pension benefits put in their name. This allows them to cash in the full amount and leaves the elder without the monthly stipend. Of course, the elder has to pay the tax consequences.
- Try to conserve the elder to get control of all assets. This makes the elder totally dependent on the conservator for everything and it dehumanizes the elder because their desires and expressed needs are not heeded.
- Write a new will for the elders and induce them to sign it without the elder understanding the provisions. The new will is often executed as a result of coercion, such as a threat to never come visit them. Sometimes an elder will accede to this demand for fear of alienating the child or caregiver. This type of will is often contested, which costs the estate lots of money in a probate proceeding.
- Get cars and other property titled in their names. It's amazing how much finagling and cheating someone will undergo to get an old car that isn't worth much money. If the car is new and more valuable, they work faster and harder to get it in their name.
- Take away the elder's driver's license or identification, credit and debit cards and checkbooks. This makes the elder totally defenseless and dependent on the generosity of the person who took their cards and money.
- Take control of the money and credit cards. After gaining control, they give the elder a minuscule sum of money each month, keeping the rest for themselves. In one family, the children used an online grocery delivery service to place expensive orders of unnecessary and inappropriate food with no concern about the elder's preferences and needs.
- Fail to take an elder to doctors or provide their medicines. One conservator denied her mother prescribed daily medicines for 8 weeks.
- Get named health care agent. In this way, the agent can influence medical staff negatively about the elder to get the elder conserved or improperly treated so they will die sooner. I saw one perfectly healthy lady get conserved, waste away from depression and malnutrition, be zoned out from medication she didn't need, and die six months later.
If anything like this is happening to you or someone you know who is over 65, it is elder abuse. The elder shouldn't just take it and keep quiet. Call someone who can stop the abuse. Here is a suggested list of who to call. If they can't help you, they'll give you the number of someone who can help.
- An elder law lawyer
- HELPLINK 1.800.273.6222
- Your Local Council on Aging
- Your county's Adult Protective Services
- Seniors at Home
- Don't Borrow Trouble
- CANHR 1.800.474.1116
Before any of the dangers listed above happens to you, you should form a relationship with an Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney who will provide the legal documents that will keep you well cared for in case you become ill or lose mental or physical capacity to care for yourself. You can execute a Durable Power of Attorney for finances, an Advance Health Care Directive or Living Will for health care decisions, and even a Care Contract with a caregiver.
Remember, the only one you can trust to plan efficiently to take care of your interests is yourself. Make sure you are knowledgeable about the available powers of attorney for finances and for health decisions and have planned in advance what to do if you should become unable to manage your own financial and health affairs.