Elder Financial Exploitation

Financial exploitation of the elderly in the United States is a large and growing problem. It is driven by multiple factors, including advancements in technology that make it easier to pull off financial scams, and the aging Baby Boom generation, which provides a large field of targets for those looking to make a fast buck. In this article, we’ll talk about elder financial exploitation, what it is, how to spot it, and what to do if you or someone you love is affected.

Definition of Elder Financial Exploitation

The definition of elder financial exploitation is an action that involves the misuse of an older adult’s funds or property by another person. Those actions can take many forms. Here are some examples of financial exploitation of the elderly:

  • Cashing a senior’s benefit checks or other checks without their permission
  • Forging a senior’s signature to gain a financial benefit
  • Stealing or misusing an older person’s money or possessions;
  • Coercing or tricking an older person into signing a will, contract, deed, or other document
  • Abuse of a guardianship or conservatorship role or acting improperly under a power of attorney
  • Advising an elderly person to invest in financial products that are not appropriate for a senior, such as annuities with lengthy surrender periods

Sometimes, financial exploitation of elders is committed by strangers, such as contractors who appear at an older person’s door, persuade them that their home needs an urgent repair, and then disappear after taking a hefty deposit for the promised work. But often, seniors are taken advantage of by people they know, and who should have their best interests at heart, like family members who are supposed to be helping them manage their finances.

Spotting Signs of Elder Financial Exploitation

Depending on the situation, an older person may not even realize that they have been taken advantage of. That is common in older people with dementia. But it’s also common for an older person who does realize they have been swindled to keep quiet; they may be embarrassed at having been tricked, or not want to burden their family members. That’s why it is important to be aware of signs that an older person may have been financially exploited. Those signs include:

  • Sudden changes in banking practices, including unexplained withdrawals of large sums
  • The inclusion of additional names on a senior’s bank signature card
  • Changes in the amount or frequency of ATM withdrawals, especially if the senior doesn’t have a history of using the ATM
  • Sudden changes to an older person’s will or other financial documents
  • A senior reporting sudden plans to marry, especially someone much younger
  • The unexplained disappearance of family heirlooms, jewelry, or other valuable possessions from the older person’s home
  • Bills going unpaid despite the fact that there should be adequate resources available to pay them
  • The discovery of a senior’s signature being forged on financial documents, such as contracts, deeds, or transfers of title
  • Relatives who were previously uninvolved or minimally involved with the older person suddenly taking an active role in their lives or finances, or claiming a right to their property
  • Unexplained or sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family, like a paid caregiver or neighbor
  • Based on the advice of a trusted advisor, the senior’s money has been placed in investments that are inappropriate for their age or life expectancy

If you have noticed one or more of these things happening, it could mean that there is some elder financial exploitation going on, and you may want to investigate further. Remember to tread carefully; you don’t want your loved one to shut down or get defensive. Rather, you want to let them know you’re concerned and that you’re there for them if they need any help.

How an Attorney Can Help if You Suspect Elder Financial Exploitation

Elder law attorneys deal with a wide range of legal issues that affect older people, including financial exploitation of the elderly. These situations are often overwhelming for seniors and their families, especially if there was misconduct or fraud by a family member. Many people beat themselves up for not recognizing and responding to elder financial exploitation sooner.

An elder law attorney can provide guidance and advocacy for seniors who have been financially exploited, including:

  • Taking steps to immediately halt any financial abuse of the senior
  • Removing the offending party from a role that enabled them to take advantage of the older person, including serving as an agent under a power of attorney, conservator, or joint owner of an asset
  • Getting a trusted person appointed to oversee or assist with the senior’s needs. This could include creating durable financial powers of attorney or establishing a guardianship or conservatorship
  • Taking action to retrieve any assets that were stolen or misappropriated, if possible
  • Making use of reporting tools under the Financial Exploitation Prevention Act of Michigan
  • Pursuing a criminal case against the offender where appropriate

It doesn’t matter how smart or financially savvy a senior citizen is, or whether they have family looking out for them—financial exploitation of the elderly can happen to anyone. If your loved one has been taken advantage of, an elder law attorney can help you get the situation under control. And if elder financial exploitation is something you are worried about happening in the future, an attorney can help you take preventive measures. To learn more about our elder rights advocacy services, contact Estate Planning & Elder Law Services to schedule a consultation.