Elder abuse awareness and prevention
By David Coeyman [May 7th, 2012]
Taking care of Grandpa should be a natural evolution of the family dynamic, as our eldest family members continue to age, and our younger members get stronger, more competent, and more financially independent.
Unfortunately, sometimes it’s those very family members, who are supposedly handling all the financial affairs, that victimize the elder family member via his bank accounts. Adult children, rather than competently taking over the reins to handle their aging parent’s resources, can end up siphoning those funds for their own purposes. Elder law is meant to help write wills, plan for retirements, disabilities, estates, and nursing homes. But if an aging family member hasn’t approached a lawyer and is reliant on his own family members, sometimes an unthinkable fraud takes place.
About two-thirds of all elder abuse perpetrators are family members, and usually the adult children, according to the National Center on Elder Abuse. Taking advantage of an elder’s weakening ability to handle his own affairs, the perpetrators see a bold opportunity to get away with theft and fraud, which so often goes unreported. The victim himself is often unaware of the crime, or is unable to report the crime because of his own health concerns and limitations. As many as one in five senior citizens is financially victimized, according to an elder financial fraud survey.
One of the leading risk factors in all kinds of elder abuse, including financial exploitation, is dementia. Even mild cognitive impairment, not yet recognized or diagnosed, can render a senior citizen vulnerable to family members who see his decline as an opportunity for gain.
Lawyers who work in elder law are useful, necessary advocates for protecting the resources and estates of senior citizens. But the crimes are so often secretive and unreported, occurring behind the closed doors of families’ homes. Supporting the rights and needs of elders can be challenging.
Many states have increased penalties for the financial victimization of senior citizens. In 2010, an elder exploitation prevention program was launched, called the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program (EIFFE). The program uses the unique position of the primary care physician in guarding against swindling by abusive family members.
The senior citizen’s physician, during regular doctor’s visits, is trained and enabled to identify risk factors for financial abuse and can refer patients for screening if they suspect an abusive situation. They also report any mistreatment to Adult Protective Services. So far, 24 states have signed on with EIFFE to train physicians, including dentists, to help safeguard their aging patients’ rights. The EIFFE’s outreach program to train and educate physicians, has seen success so far in identifying patients, unable to advocate for themselves, who may be victimized. The self-same family members who are mismanaging the bank accounts may also be the ones in the waiting room during the doctors’ visits. The EIFFE’s continuing medical education trains the doctors how to recognize and handle a situation that appears amiss, including questioning the elderly patient separately from his family member.
Just recently, a case involving an adult child swindling his own mother made headlines. The Minneapolis Star Tribune (http://m.startribune.com/news/?id=134435633) reported last week that a 46-year-old Minnesota man was charged stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from his 86-year-old mother, whose funds he had been managing for over ten years. The article reported that the man, a married father of four, used the money to fund a sumptuous lifestyle, and he also funded numerous phone sex charges.
After she could not pay her tax bill, the elderly mother had her checking accounts seized by the government, her income garnished, and a lien put on her home. It’s exactly the kind of situation that elder law is written to guard against.
The case made the headlines in newspapers of at least three states, including Minnesota, Indiana, and Nevada. The son, if convicted, faces a jail sentence of 20 years.
For further assistance with elder law please contact Adam Roa on his website Maryland Elder Law.