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Elder Exploitation Sometimes Subtler Than Expected

We have all heard the horrifying stories of seniors being ripped off by deadbeat con artists or dishonest contractors. But exploitation goes far beyond business dealings with strangers. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ special Agency on Aging provides regular statistics tracking the prevalence of elder abuse in America. According to reports from the Agency’s National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), close relatives perpetrate 90 percent of all cases of elder exploitation, which typically includes adult children, spouses, and other close relatives. This is second only to caregivers and other close friends. In Florida, elder law attorneys are well suited to address concerns of exploitation and look for creative ways to prevent potential problems before they ever happen. Just like any crime of abuse, exploitation generally involves the people we know and trust the most.

The numbers

The NCEA speculates that most elder abuse is unreported, especially when looking at state research that indicates most cases are, in fact, not reported. Indeed, in a recent report from New York, for each reported case of abuse, 24 went unreported. But this relates to all abuse, whether emotional, physical, or otherwise. Exploitation is a much tougher issue to resolve, because it is not always as obvious as bruising or other physical injuries. The victim of financial abuse – often used synonymously with exploitation, though not exactly the same – is typically in a difficult position and requires assistance. Therefore, exploitation can look a lot like benevolence to the untrained eye. Here are a just a couple common ways that exploitation can happen subtly without anyone noticing.

Types of exploitation

There are three major forms of elder exploitation, and all involve some financial aspect.

  1. Basement Brother

For seniors who have more than one adult child, they generally wish to leave assets and inheritances in fairly equal shares, though this can vary widely depending on the relationships. Assuming everything is fairly normal in the family relationships, sometimes one of the children remains close to home for one reason or another. Perhaps this sibling had trouble finding work, went through a divorce and never moved on, or simply never really had much of a career. This sibling may live with the senior parent or parents, perhaps even living next door or close by. Due to proximity and access, this sibling begins to apply pressure, suggestions and maybe even some guilt to get the parent(s) to make subtle changes to their estate plan.

It may start with asking to receive a car or family heirloom or memento in a will. But it can quickly involve suggestions that it would be more practical and easier to simply name that child as agent under all powers of attorney, both for healthcare and finances. This may indeed be the right idea in some cases, but if the person’s intentions are not pure, these decisions can be devastating if one or both parents become mentally impaired at any point.

  1. Sneak Guardianship

Guardianships are court procedures whereby a court must determine whether an adult is capable of handling his or her own affairs. If not, the court must further decide who is best suited to provide the care and decision-making that is needed. This is usually assigned to close family members who are able and willing to take on the responsibility. But sometimes, especially when large sums of money are involved, there may be a caregiver or neighbor who seeks guardianship. If the senior’s family are not residing in Florida, they might receive notice just days before a court proceeding and not be able to attend in time to protect their loved one. Worse yet, some unscrupulous attorneys and their clients have taken advantage of distant families by simply disregarding notice rules. This can ultimately spell disaster for a senior whose entire net worth could quickly be squandered without his or her knowledge.

How to minimize your risk

The best way to protect yourself and your loved ones is by consulting a skilled and knowledgeable Florida elder law attorney who has the experience to discuss complex family situations. Sometimes a little foresight and talking through potential scenarios can give you greater insight into structuring and planning your future. This may involve powers of attorney, trusts, and other careful planning mechanisms. If you need help putting together your plan, call the Millhorn Elder Law Planning Group for help, an experienced elder law firm with three offices throughout The Villages.

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