Financial abuse of the elderly occurs every day across Virginia.
Here’s an unsettling fact: Chances are that you know someone who is or has been the victim of financial elder abuse.
In Virginia, financial exploitation occurs whenever someone purposefully mishandles or misuses a senior citizen’s money, assets, or property. Recent statistics are hard to come by, but in 2009, Virginia Adult Protective Services identified 756 cases of such behavior across the Commonwealth. What makes that raw number staggering is that experts estimate only 1 in 25 cases of this abusive behavior are ever reported. Do the math and you will find that’s nearly 19,000 incidents.
Unfortunately, America’s growing elderly population combined with the Great Recession’s continuing economic fallout make financial elder abuse a trend that’s likely to increase for the foreseeable future.
The best way to protect yourself or a loved one is to understand who commits this crime and to watch diligently for known warning signs.
While strangers and scammers often target the elderly, it’s important to understand that family members, caregivers, and trusted authority figures can also abuse their positions for personal gain at a senior’s expense.
Sometimes, such trusted individuals find themselves in dire straits financially and see the victim’s assets as a way to solve their personal problems. Other times, they may feel entitled to the senior’s wealth as compensation for the care they provide or to right perceived injustices.
What are some of the warning signs of financial elder abuse?
In the worst instances, an outright scammer may ingratiate themselves into the victim’s life solely to gain access to their money or possessions.
Signs of financial elder abuse include:
Isolation from family and friends.
Unpaid bills despite adequate resources.
Uncharacteristic banking activity.
Unexplained and substantial withdrawals.
Unexpected transfer of assets or property titles.
Fear of speaking without the approval of a caregiver.
Inadequate care despite adequate assets.
What can I do to prevent financial elder abuse?
Preventing financial abuse is often a matter of knowing your rights, so discussing your situation and concerns with an attorney familiar with elder law is an excellent option.
Never sign papers you do not understand and give careful consideration before granting anyone power of attorney over your financial affairs.
If outside caregivers will be frequenting your household, document and secure all valuables and important papers in an area that is not easily accessible.
If a family member will be providing frequent care, consider having an attorney draft a formal agreement and then pay them a salary. The idea may sound awkward, and it certainly could have tax implications, but it will also keep your financial relationship well-defined and provide a level of transparency for the family caregiver.
Ryan C. Young | Richmond, Virginia Attorney