Unfortunately, financial exploitation of older individuals is an all too common occurrence in our country. The National Council on Aging estimates that as many as 1 in 10 Americans over the age of 60 has experienced some sort of elder abuse. And what many people don’t realize is that a large portion of those incidents may be at the hands of a family member.
First, when a family member becomes secretive about the parent’s finances. If a child used to be forthcoming about a parent’s finances but then becomes hesitant to share information with others, you might question what it is the child is afraid the others might see. However, it is also true at times that the person who is losing access to information about the parent’s finances is themselves somebody who has deservedly lost the trust of the parent or other family members.
Second, a family member lives with the parent and depends on the parent for financial support. There is nothing inherently wrong with an adult child who lives with their parent. In fact, that is often a living arrangement that is the key to helping the parent avoid a move into a skilled nursing facility. However, it can be worrisome if the child has inadequate financial resources that would otherwise permit the child to live on their own. When a child who is on unsteady financial ground themselves has ready access to a parent’s assets it can be too great a temptation not to start taking the money. You might look for indications that the parent starts paying the child’s personal bills or that the child is otherwise paying their bills from out of the parent’s account.
Third, similar to a restriction on access to financial information, a child will sometimes begin to physically isolate the older parent from other family members or friends. It may be that the child is hesitant to let others see the parent’s living conditions or health. Or it could be the fact that the parent’s assets or other valuable belongings have now disappeared from the parent’s residence.
Fourth, it may be that the child only permits visitors when the child is present. If the child has already threatened the parents it could be that the child knows that their presence will prevent the parent from sharing his or her concerns. When we do planning for older clients there are times when we need to speak with the parent alone, without other family members being present. Other family members may not like it but we will insist on escorting other individuals from the conference room so we can continue to talk with the parent alone.
Fifth, when a child has a substance abuse problem and that child has a special influence over their aging parent with memory problems. Gambling and substance abuse problems generate a constant need for money to support the dependent’s unhealthy habits. When that person has easy access to a parent’s financial resources the temptation will probably be too great for that child. Easy access to “loans” that will never be repaid can support the child’s unhealthy habits. And if the older parent has memory issues they may be unable to even remember that the child has taken money from them.
Sixth, if there are significant changes to estate planning documents in favor of a particular child and those changes represent an abrupt change to the parent’s previous planning. As estate planners it is imperative that we take steps to make sure that any changes are in fact requested by the parent and are changes that the parent really wants. We need to avoid situations where changes are really being made because an exploiting child is unduly influencing their parent.
Seventh, if the parent is abruptly moved without notice or discussion with any other family members. When an older parent relocates it needs to be a well thought out process, done after an extensive discussion of the pros and cons of the move. And there must have been an assessment of the suitability of the new intended residence. There is almost never a good reason for one child to abruptly whisk a parent away without consulting the parent’s attorneys and other family members.
Written by Henry (Hank) C. Weatherby, Attorney at Law, Founding Principal of the Law Firm of Weatherby & Associates, PC, located in Bloomfield, Connecticut. Attorney Weatherby and his firm are Featured in ElderCareMatters.com – America’s National Directory of Elder Care / Senior Care Resources to help families plan for and deal with the issues of Aging.