Financial exploitation is defined as the illegal or improper use of an elder's funds, property, or assets. Michigan defines financial "exploitation" as: "an action that involves the misuse of an adult's funds, property, or personal dignity by another person."
Examples of financial exploitation include, but are not limited to:
- cashing an elderly person's checks without authorization or permission;
- forging an elder's signature;
- misusing or stealing an older person's money or possessions;
- coercing or deceiving an older person into signing any document (e.g., deed, contract or will);
- the improper use of conservatorship, guardianship, or power of attorney, and
- a senior being advised to invest in financial products inappropriate for a senior (i.e. annuities with lengthy surrender periods).
Signs of financial exploitation include, but are not limited to:
- sudden changes in bank account or banking practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder;
- the inclusion of additional names on an elder's bank signature card;
- unauthorized withdrawal of the elder's funds using the elder's ATM card;
- abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents;
- unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions;
- substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources;
- discovery of an elder's signature being forged for financial transactions or for the titles of his/her possessions;
- sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder's affairs and possessions;
- unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family; and
- elder's money placed in investments inappropriate for their age, life expectancy, etc., at the direction of a trusted advisor.
How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help if you Suspect Financial Exploitation
In financial exploitation matters, elder law attorneys and advocates can help in a number of ways:
- taking the necessary steps to immediately stop any further abuse;
- removing the offending party from any position that helped them commit the wrongful act (i.e. agent, joint owner, conservator, etc);
- appointing someone to assist with the senior's needs (i.e. power of attorney, guardian, conservator, etc);
- retrieving the assets that were improperly taken, if possible; and
- seeking criminal remedies, where appropriate, against the offending party.
If you suspect you or a loved one has been the victim of financial exploitation, learn more about our elder rights advocacy services or contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services for a free consultation about your concerns.