NOT ALL ABUSE IS PHYSICAL: CAN YOU SPOT FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION?
WHAT IS ELDER EXPLOITATION?
All over America, seniors are exploited every day. Sometimes it’s by a close loved one, such as an adult child or other relative. Other times, it may be a caregiver or healthcare worker. If you think it can’t happen to someone you love, then you are sadly mistaken.
According to some sources, about 1 in 10 seniors have experienced some form of abuse – physical or financial. The National Council on Aging supports this and further suggests that as few as 1 in 14 of these cases ever gets reported to the authorities. Exploitation can take many forms, including:
- Taking control of a senior’s financial resources
- Stealing from a senior’s bank accounts and trusts
- Stealing Social Security checks
- Placing a senior in a nursing home facility in order to take control of assets
- Using a senior’s property (i.e. home, car, other items) without their permission
- Keeping a senior isolated and away from other family members
- Coercing or forcing a senior to change wills, powers of attorney, or other important documents
HOW BAD IS THE FINANCIAL EXPLOITATION PROBLEM?
The problem is sadly worse than a lot of folks want to admit. The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) even reports that it is quickly becoming one of the “most prevalent forms of abuse” in the country. What’s more, one New York study showed that only about 1 in 44 cases was reported to the authorities, which is significantly less than what some studies show. This tends to demonstrate just how hard it is to gauge the gravity and severity of a problem that is so rarely reported.
WARNING SIGNS OF EXPLOITATION
Warning signs can be tough to spot, especially if you are not around the aging adult every day. But there are some clear signs to watch for:
- Is there a caregiver who doesn’t seem to want to leave you alone with your own parent or elderly loved one?
- Is a caregiver getting “too” close?
- Is a caregiver all the sudden wearing new clothes or do you believe a caregiver is getting your loved one to buy them personal items?
- Is a member of the family or a close friend suddenly spending a lot more time around an aging person who has a mental or cognitive deficit?
- Does your elderly loved one have a large amount of assets but limited cognitive function?
- Is someone accessing your elderly relative’s vehicle or using their home as a personal apartment?
- Do you see mail with someone else’s name on it at your loved one’s home?
- Have wills, powers of attorney, or other planning documents recently gone missing or been changed?
These are just a handful of the potential warning signs. The most common scenario is actually a relative who believes that he or she is entitled to access an aging parent’s resources. They may act as though they are looking out for their parent, but under Illinois law, there are strict guidelines for agents under a power of attorney or any other form of fiduciary.
OPTIONS FOR FAMILY WHO DISCOVER WARNING SIGNS
If you and your family suspect foul play with your loved one’s assets, you have several options. Here are the steps you should follow:
- If you think your loved one is in danger, call 9-1-1 and make a report, then call Illinois Adult Protective Services right away. If your loved one is being exploited or abused in a healthcare facility or skilled nursing home facility, call the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) at their toll-free hotline: (800) 252-4343.
- If there does not appear to be a threat of violence or physical harm, but you are concerned about someone taking your elderly loved one’s assets, you may need to consider an adult guardianship proceeding. This can be a painful and difficult process, but it can be helpful for protecting a senior from exploitation. Once a judge is involved, he or she will appoint a guardian ad litem to investigate and act as the eyes and ears of the court. This will go a long way to making many abusers take off.
- Get help from a skilled elder exploitation attorney today. Whether you need to dispute a will, petition for guardianship of a loved one, or litigate a challenging and complex matter in probate court, we might be able to help.
At Jerome, Lindsay & Salmi, LLP, we are devoted trial lawyers and caring advocates who provide careful and experienced guidance through difficult and complex cases. Call us today if you need help protecting an aging and vulnerable senior in your life.
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