A recent survey revealed that elder abuse has increased approximately 20% in the past several years. This takes on many forms, including physical, psychological, emotional, verbal, sexual, and financial. The most commonly recognized abuse that is reported is financial abuse as it often makes public news in the press, such as the case of Mickey Rooney. 

Rooney testified to Congress relative to his own personal situation, whereby he was exploited by his won family and had to take legal action in order to recoup his assets and discharge family members as his decision makers. Unfortunately, abuse does not become apparent in many cases until it has occurred. Once it is recognized, it is often too late to recoup assets, as the perpetrator has already spent the money or has no assets from which to recoup the funds. 

Most states have recognized financial abuse as a crime, and in some cases, a felony. The following are several warning signs to look for in the case of suspected elder abuse, which may warrant further review and investigation. 

  1. Unexplained disappearance of personal effects or reduction in accounts of significant sums.
  2. The presence of an adult child who is dependent upon his or her parents.
  3. A transfer of assets that is uncharacteristic for the elder.
  4. Significant sums of funds transferred to a charity.
  5. Substantial changes in estate planning documents, such as health proxy, power of attorney, and will.
  6. Signatures on documents that do not appear to resemble the elder’s prior signature.
  7. The elder reporting that they have signed documents, but do not remember what they signed.
  8. The elder being kept isolated and away from family and/or close friends.

The presence of any of the above may not necessarily be indicative of elder abuse, but they may be early warning signs that something suspicious is brewing. It is estimated that there are approximately 5 million allegations of financial abuse in the United States per year. 

While some transfers of assets may be properly attended to for asset protection purposes and to avoid probate, it is always wise to contact either an elder attorney or the local senior services agency that has jurisdiction over elders to review the situation. The sooner that elder abuse is caught, the sooner there is a possibility of resolving the situation and reversing whatever wrongdoings have occurred.

This post originally appeared on Bacon Wilson, P.C.'s blog entitled, "Estate Planning Bits."