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Senior Financial Abuse: How Trust Worthy is Your Elder's Caretaker?

Jeff Weinberg - March 30, 2015 11:11 AM

You may have noticed the topic of Elder Financial Abuse has been given much press lately, in both consumer and professional publications. It is a serious and ever-increasing problem and it’s difficult to identify.

The American Society of Aging reported that financial exploitation was estimated to be $2.9 billion in 2011!!

In the most recent AARP Bulletin (March, 2015), elder financial abuse is the cover story. One article, “The Stranger In Your Home” by Rick Schmidt, retells the story of a husband, wife and a caregiver. The husband and his ill wife thought their caregiver was wonderful and the husband saw her as his angel. When his wife passed away, he discovered that the caretaker had absconded with nearly $600,000 worth of assets including the title to their home! As a Patient Advocate, I have seen a number of these cases, and have reported them to Protective Services for older adults.

My client…

One of my clients, an 83 year old woman, was most recently was put into hospice. She has had a companion for the past three years who has slept in her home, driven her to appointments, shops, and plays games with her in the evening. My client really enjoys her company and considers her “adopted daughter”. This companion has been taking advantage of her financially, but my client refuses to do anything about it for fear of losing the companionship or jeopardizing her relationship with her “adopted daughter”.

My client’s daughter lives out of town and recently flew up when she was informed her mother was going to need hospice. She asked me to become involved as a Patient Advocate for the family. The daughter is afraid that her mother will re-write her will to the benefit of the caregiver. As the Patient Advocate, I contacted their elder law attorney. She advised setting up a Revocable Trust that can be controlled and protected by her daughter. We put a system in place to protect her remaining assets!

My Mother-in-Law…

This could have happened to my own mother-in-law if we weren’t there to stop it. She lived in Florida and had a caregiver. When the caregiver found out we were moving her to Pittsburgh, she started requesting things in the house that she wanted, and also told my mother-in-law that her last client gave her a $5000.00 bonus. We told my mother-in-law she was not giving her a bonus and after we discussed the household items she was moving, we could decide what the caregiver may have. My mother-in-law was upset because the caregiver was her friend, they loved each other and she didn’t want to disappoint her. We decided to give her two weeks’ severance pay and some of the items she requested. When my mother-in-law moved, she never heard from the caregiver again.

I believe these incidents occur because the elderly person becomes dependent on the caregiver. The caregiver crosses boundaries and discusses their own family, their own issues and problems, and gains the sympathy of their elderly charge.

In order to prevent this from occurring, here are some tips:

•    Keep all important documents and financial statements in a locked setting
•    Monitor their relationship. If it becomes too personal and no longer a professional-client relationship, you should be on notice. These are red flags.
•    If the caregiver asks to borrow money, do not let this happen… no matter how much they play on your relative’s sympathy.
•    If you live out if town, either listen very carefully to phone conversations, monitor emails and/or ask a lot of questions. If possible, hire a Patent Advocate to oversee their care.
•    Make sure you have prepared all the legal documents: POA, Will, Living Will, new bank signature cards, etc.
•    Know what assets are in the estate, and what is allocated to whom in the Will. This is for the relative’s protection. These funds need to be protected for their own care and needs.
•    If hiring a home care agency, make sure they do criminal background checks and drug screenings.
•    If hiring someone privately, do a criminal background check (this can be done through the state police) and check references.

With continued diligence in making sure these types of cases are recognized, stopped and reported, we can stop and reduce the incidents of financial abuse of the elderly.

Jeff Weinberg, M.Ed, MPH, NHA, developed Senior Assistance, an advocacy agency, as a result of working more than 25 years with seniors, chronically disabled and their families. Senior Assistance helps families to get through the many layers of the bureaucratic maze by providing creative solutions when they need it the most. Jeff has a Master’s degrees in Counseling and Health Administration and is licensed as a Nursing Home Administrator in Pennsylvania and Florida. He is also Adjunct instructor for CCAC and Penn State University.

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