It is sad to say elder abuse is a fairly common concept in our society. Even more tragic is that elder abuse is often at the hands of their own family members.
The stereotypical case might be an adult son or daughter that lives with an aging parent, and they are taken advantage of the situation. They may be a fiduciary or have a financial power of attorney and access to their parents’ checkbook. With this power, they can write checks or buy themselves gifts. They are living their lifestyle off their parents. This is considered financial exploitation.
You may also notice and be concerned if your aging loved one is not answering their door or their telephone or showing up for doctor’s appointments. These scenarios are red flags to start investigating further.
When an elder abuse or elder neglect case is suspected, it is essential to report it to protective elder services as soon as possible. First, it is wise to verify and/or clarify that the suspicions have merit. If you think your loved one may be in harm’s way physically or emotionally, consider reporting it to the local police. Elders are a vulnerable susceptible segment of the population, so taking action is necessary first and foremost.
Once there is enough information to take action with elder services in the community and/or law enforcement, you might also be referred to the probate court. To prevent elder abuse from continuing, formal probate proceedings for conservatorships or guardianships may be necessary. This way, you may legally step in the shoes of your elderly, incapacitated loved one.
Through the conservatorship, you can help them manage their financial affairs and control their finances to stop people who might be trying to exploit them. If you also move forward with the guardianship proceeding, you can make medical healthcare decisions for them and ensure they get the proper care from their medical providers.
Please know that if you are concerned for your loved one but do not have a formal adjudication of a conservatorship or guardianship at the probate court, you may have few legal rights to protect them. However, it may be best to consider those steps as the last resort since we want to give our elders as much autonomy and independence as possible with the least invasive action.
The best action to take is to be proactive before any suspicions arise. You can have your loved one meet with their elder law attorney in the third or early fourth quarter of life so they can pick up a pen while still possessing testamentary capacity. They can appoint you or another suitable family member or loved one as their attorney in fact through a durable financial power of attorney. They can also create a comprehensive healthcare proxy with other advanced directives to avoid expensive guardianship proceedings at the probate court.
This is the first line of defense to ensure your aging loved one is protected and has the proper disability planning in place. There is additional information in an article called “The Big Six Disability Planning.” You will learn about the big six disability tools your loved one should have in their elder law toolbox or treasure chest.
We specialize in educating and helping you protect what you have for the people you love the most. Contact us or attend a free workshop to learn more about how we can help.