Did you hear of the case out of Wisconsin that involved a younger couple and their neighbor, a 92-year-old retired teacher who never married and had dementia? After befriending the woman, the couple took control of her home and nearly $2 million of her savings before they were eventually found out.
Sadly, this victim is not alone. Almost 1-in-10 Americans aged 60+ have experienced some form of elder abuse. According to the National Council on Aging, there are as many as five million elderly individuals abused each year. Moreover, the aging population's vulnerability for elder abuse is heightened when an individual is isolated and/or experiences mental issues such as dementia or Alzheimer's disease.
To bring awareness to these all-too-common incidents, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the World Health Organization named June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.
While there are many forms of elder abuse including physical, sexual and emotional abuse, financial abuse may be one of the hardest to catch.
One of the most telling signs include suddenly missed bill payments or unexplained expenses, significant money withdrawals or charges, and personal property going missing.
How can elder abuse be prevented?
Discuss money concerns: Talk with your parents about power of attorney and/or living will and address health care decisions now to avoid any issues in the future. Be sure to address daily financial needs and establish a monthly budget for them.
Protect personal information: Advise your parents to open their own mail and teach them to never share personal information over the phone. Take time to walk them through the sign-up process for the Do Not Call Registry to eliminate some spam phone calls and reduce the risk of them falling victim to any scams.
Second, make sure you’re checking their credit card records to see if there are any unauthorized charges or withdrawals. Look into monitoring systems such as EverSafe, which monitors bank and investment accounts, credit cards and credit data for you, your family and clients. The system will alert you when there are signs of irregular financial activity.
Seek out an expert, such as a CFP® professional, to answer any questions before an elderly loved one signs any financial or legal documents, and to closely monitor their living will. Lastly, be sure to make an effort to visit regularly to check on their well-being and look over various documents.
Pay attention: If looking to employ any caregivers, carefully look into the background of the individual and company to spot any complaints or other issues before hiring them to make sure your elderly parents will not be taken advantage of.
Keep parents active: Reduce the possibility of your loved one becoming a victim by creating a system to catch signs before it’s too late. Don't allow your parents to sit around in isolation. Get them involved in a senior care center and make sure they’re spending plenty of time with friends and relatives.
There are more resources to help prevent elder abuse including the Investor Protection Trust, a nonprofit organization devoted to investor education, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB). The CFPB was created to provide a single point of accountability for enforcing federal consumer financial laws and protecting consumers in the financial marketplace. The organization works to prevent unfair, deceptive or abusive financial practices by creating guidelines, supervising companies and enforcing the law.
Our parents raised us and kept us safe from harm. Now it’s our time to do the same. For more information on protecting your elderly parent’s finances, a CFP® professional can assess their current financial status, aid in reviewing any documents and their living will, and help identify any signs of financial abuse.