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Financial Abuse: Protecting Your Loved Ones

Financial Abuse: Protecting Your Loved Ones

| February 26, 2016

12.3% of all Elder Abuse cases are Financial Exploitation[1]

Did you know that about 10,000 Baby Boomers turned 65 today and 10,000 more will do so every day for the next 19 years?[2]. As parents and relatives get older, the more they may depend on you and other family members to help with daily living, paying bills, and making financial decisions. I would like to assume most people are looking out for the best interest of their elders, but this is not always the case. According to research done by, in 2010 elderly victims lost at least $2.9 billion to financial exploitation.

Unfortunately, previously trusted family members, caregivers, financial advisors and bankers may all be in a position to exploit your loved ones. According to, 90% of financial abusers are family members. The following will educate you on the warning signs that financial abuse might be happening, tips on prevention, and tough conversations that you might need to have with family members.

Signs of Financial Abuse

  • Your loved one may have someone acting to pay their monthly bills and tending to other responsibilities. You receive notice that their bills are in arrears, sent to collection agencies or they are being evicted.
  • Documents such as Power of Attorney, Trusts, and Wills have been altered late in life when your relative cannot make sound decisions on their own and the changes run counter to their previously expressed wishes.
  • Unusual withdrawals, checks or transfers of large sums of money occur without an explanation or contrary to their usual living expenses.
  • Statements are no longer being sent to the home and legal and financial arrangement documents and other valuable items are missing.
  • The family member or caregiver who has Power of Attorney for property is keeping financial information a secret and acting evasive or avoiding you completely if you start asking questions about it.  


Make sure a Power of Attorney for property is set up while your family member can still make sound decisions for themselves. The Power of Attorney (POA) can be effective immediately, called “Durable POA” or it can begin when the person becomes incompetent, called “Springing POA.”

A trust can also help in the prevention of elder abuse. While the trust owner is alive and well, they can act as their own trustee and manage their own assets and name a successor trustee within the trust in the event they cannot make decisions for themselves any longer. The trust will outline how the successor trustee will become primary. For example, there might be a declaration of incompetency by a doctor in accordance with the elder’s children.

The difference between being a trustee and a POA is that the POA ends at death whereas the trustee would still continue to manage the trust as stated within the trust agreement. Even if a trust is setup, there might be assets you do not want held within the trust and therefore a POA may still be necessary.

Keep in communication with both your relative and the person taking care of the finances to make sure everything is being done correctly. If the elder is using a third party caregiver or living in a nursing home, it is important to make sure you keep in contact with the caregiver and staff members. If you are not the POA, you can ask to be an interested party on investments and other accounts to have statements sent to you so you can monitor the account activity.

Your family member’s financial professional should also help with prevention. They should be aware of what is considered “normal activity” in their accounts and notice any unusual large withdrawals or sudden changes in beneficiaries. The advisor will be looking out for the best interest in the client and will notify the proper authorities if they feel it is appropriate. A good financial advisor will discuss these matters early on to make sure there is a plan in place for when an aging loved one cannot make decisions for themselves.

Tough Conversations with Family

When there are multiple siblings or other family members involved, the situation can become difficult. Your parents do have the option to appoint all siblings as equal POAs. Keep in mind if one sibling disagrees with the decision, then the decision being made on the parent’s behalf will not take effect. This could make things even messier and create rifts between family members.

If you find out a family member with POA for property is abusing their privileges by using the elder’s money for themselves, this is where things can get really tough. They might be avoiding you completely because you know they are stealing money. The elder might not be able to make decisions at this point anymore and so the POA cannot be altered.

So what can you do? You could take legal action against the POA, but this could be a family member where you have to decide if you want the authorities involved or not. You can contact Adult Protective Services agency within the state your elder lives. You can find your local agency by calling 1-800-677-1116. They will investigate your case and help guide you through how to handle these situations. The same applies for people abusing the elder outside of the family.

It is important to have these conversations early on with your parents and relatives even if it is uncomfortable. The earlier this is discussed, the easier it will be on your whole family and the smoother the transition will be when the time comes. It is also important to make sure you have a plan in place for yourself too.

If you or someone you know feels they know of an elder abuse situation please contact the above phone number for help. Do not let your loved ones become another statistic of elder abuse fraud.


The opinions voiced in this material are for general information only and are not intended to be a substitute for specific individualized tax or legal advice. I suggest that you discuss your specific situation with a qualified tax or legal advisor.

[1] National Center of Elder Abuse, Bureau of Justice Statistics, December 1st, 2015

[2] Pew Research Center, 12/29/2010