Understanding and Preventing Financial Exploitation of Elders

Caregiver and elderly man reading paperwork

Elders face many unique challenges.  Financial exploitation is one of the most serious risks they face.  But exactly what constitutes financial exploitation of elders?  How does it happen?  What can you do to prevent it or address it?

Financial Exploitation of Elders Explained

Federal and Maryland state laws protect elders from a number of different types of abuse.  Financial exploitation is the most prevalent type.  Reported statistics indicate that this abuse deprives elders in this country of several billion dollars each year. 

Sadly, the vast majority of cases go unreported, even though government agencies can assist elders in situations involving financial exploitation.  The senior often is embarrassed or fearful, or may lack the mental capacity to understand the full impact of the exploitation and abuse.

Any misuse of an elder’s money, property and possessions, or assets constitutes financial exploitation.  This type of elder abuse occurs in many different contexts. 

Financial exploitation can happen in an elder’s own home or in a nursing home.  Often, it involves a family member or caregiver.  To make the situation even worse, emotional or physical abuse of the elder frequently accompanies the financial exploitation.  Many cases involve an elder who suffers from diminished or diminishing capacity and does not fully understand what is happening.

Schemes by family members or caregivers to take money or property from an elder often have common themes.  Examples include:

  • Exerting pressure on the elder to give large sums of money for their own use
  • Diverting money intended for paying bills and buying personal necessities
  • Abusing check signing authority
  • Forging the elder’s signature on checks or property title documents
  • Getting the elder to sign a power of attorney or a new will
  • Taking items of value and personal belongings from the elder’s home
  • Convincing the elder to add the person to a bank account

Strangers also target seniors with scams aimed at stealing the elder’s financial information in phone calls, by mail, and sometimes even in person.  Some of the worst phone fraud involves callers impersonating government officials, including IRS agents and Social Security Administration (SSA) employees.  The goal of these fraudulent phone and mail schemes is obtaining the elder’s personal and financial information, and then using it to steal money.  Some fraudsters even file false tax refund requests using the elder’s identity.

Preventing Elder Financial Exploitation

If you are a senior, there are steps you can take to protect yourself and your assets.  If you have an elder family member who is vulnerable to exploitation, you should make sure your loved one is fully aware of the risks and takes the necessary steps for protection.

One important rule for elders to follow is never giving your personal and financial information to a stranger on the phone.  The best strategy is to avoid answering phone calls when you see an unfamiliar number, rather than answering and talking with caller. 

SSA scammers now even spoof numbers that appear to be a government agency but are not. Government agencies do not call you on the phone.  They contact you by mail.  If a caller claims to be a government official or employee, you should hang up immediately. 

An elder also should never sign a legal document given to you by anyone, even a family member or caregiver, without talking to a lawyer.  That includes powers of attorney, bank signatory documents, a will, or the title to specific property. 

Specific legal documents can protect you from financial exploitation by anyone who may try to take your property.  A careful estate plan includes those documents to safeguard you and your assets.  But you should get the legal documents from your lawyer, not from a family member or caregiver.

You also should never use forms you find online or through an internet Do-It-Yourself (DIY) service.  Using those forms or services can be a serious mistake and create significant legal issues for you and your family.

The documents in your estate plan that protect you during your lifetime include your financial power of attorney and advanced health care directive. In some cases, a living trust in your estate plan affords the best protection for you and your assets.  To ensure that you take the right steps to prevent financial exploitation, talk with an experienced estate planning and elder law attorney and only sign documents prepared by your attorney.

In situations where an elder becomes incapacitated and does not have protective documents in place, family members may petition the court for legal guardianship.  An experienced elder law attorney can assist with the process.

Assistance For Situations Involving Financial Exploitation or Other Abuse

As noted earlier, federal and state laws provide protection from abuse for elders.  If you are a senior suffering abuse or exploitation, or if you suspect your loved one is being abused or financially exploited, resources are available to help. 

In Montgomery County, Maryland, Adult Protective Services (240-777-3000) focuses on helping vulnerable elders who need assistance.  You also may call the Police Department Elder/Vulnerable Adult Abuse Section (240-773-5050) or 911 (if an elder is in immediate danger).

Talk With a Trusted Rockville, Maryland Estate Planning and Elder Law Attorney

Attorney Henry Nash has extensive experience helping elder clients and their families protect property and assets from financial exploitation and address all the complex legal issues facing seniors.  At The Law Office of Henry Nash, our services include elder law matters, including guardianship proceedings, and estate planning specific to the elder’s individual needs.

We work with clients in Rockville, throughout Montgomery County, and elsewhere in Maryland. We also assist out-of-state clients who have loved ones residing in the state.  If you have any questions or concerns about any issues relating to elder law, we welcome you to call us at (301) 998-6111 or contact us through our online form.

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