Elder Financial Abuse

Questions and Answers

Elder financial abuse is more common than you may realize.

Many times it is unintentional, where a caregiver really didn't understand what the laws are regarding their role in their loved one's financial matters.

Unfortunately, sometimes it isn't an innocent mistake. In that case, it can be prosecuted by the District Attorney of that jurisdiction.

We have had to charge adult children with misappropriation of funds more times than I care to remember. Usually it was because the adult children refused to pay for the nursing home bill.

As a caregiver in the home setting, if you have financial power of attorney, you are responsible for paying all bills from your elderly loved one's account. That includes doctors, labs, house payment and anything else billed directly to them.

What Is Elder Financial Abuse?

Elder financial abuse covers many things. If you hold Financial Power of Attorney for your elderly loved one, you are responsible for all of their financial matters.

That does NOT mean that you must use your own money. It almost every circumstance in almost every state, you are protected legally in that case.

Some instances and examples are listed below. Read them carefully. It is not uncommon to do some of these acts in the best interest of your elderly loved one. That makes no difference in the law.

I would recommend contacting an Elder Care Attorney for clarification if you have any questions about what you are allowed to do and what you are not allowed to do.

  • Forging signatures: If your mom signs over her social security check every month to you, but she is out of town when it comes one month, you are not allowed to forge her signature, even with her permission.

  • Taking money or property: Just because you may believe it is in the best interest of your elderly loved one to "secure" assets in your name, do this only with the assistance of an attorney.

  • Failure to pay: This involves not paying bills you are obligated to pay and may also include using the money for things other than bills. Just because your house payment is late and the doctor's bill is due, you may not use your elderly loved one's funds to pay your mortgage and decide not to pay the doctor.

  • Taking money or property: You are not allowed to use your elderly loved one's money or property without their permission.

These are just a few examples of behaviors you need to avoid to prevent anyone from accusing you of elder financial abuse.

How To Prevent Being Accused of Elder Financial Abuse

  • Step One: Do not do any of the things listed. Ever.

  • Step Two: Talk to all family members. Even have a family meeting. Explain what your role is and what your responsibilities are going to be. Keep all transactions open, with the consent of your loved one, of course. No one wants to be surprised that you helped mom sell three houses prior to her death.

  • Step Three: Consult an attorney for all transactions. Make sure that everything you do is legal and the paperwork filed in a place you will be able to find if needed.

  • Step Four: Consult Adult Protective Services or your local area Agency on Aging. They can provide you with support and information specific to your area and state on these subjects. They may even be able to provide you with a list of local attorneys that offer low cost or pro bono assistance.

  • Step Five: If you are unsure on anything, ask a legal expert. If your mom's condition changes and she is no longer mentally sound or able to sign her own checks, an attorney can guide you as to how to manage this situation.

Other Legal Consideration

Being a caregiver is a huge responsibility. But it is not the same as caring for a minor child. An adult has legal rights and has the right to determine what they chose to do and not do.

Keep all family members informed of changes to financial matters. It helps prevent them from incorrectly assuming you are making these decisions completely on your own to benefit you only.

Too many times I have seen family members at odds with each other by the time a patient came to me. Some didn't understand the reason why placement was necessary. Some believed the caretaker just didn't try hard enough.

You will have enough to deal with if that time comes without having to deal with anger and family issues as well.

As long as you "follow the rules", you should have no problems with the legal aspects of being a caregiver.

Just remember that because you have taken on the role of caretaker, you do not have the right to make all decisions for an elderly loved one.

There is a great primer book by attorney Denis Clifford that covers all aspects of estate planning titled "Plan Your Estate". It received great reviews from CBS News, The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times.

Even if you plan on hiring an attorney, this book will give you a good overview of what needs to be done.

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