Ann Rule made a living as a best-selling true-crime writer. But at the time of her death last month, she was embroiled in her own crime drama that involved her two sons. Both sons have been charged with theft from their mother, totalling $100,000. The charges are that they tricked and bullied their elderly, frail mother into giving them the money over a period of 18 months.
Author Harper Lee, of To Kill a Mockingbird, once famously said that she would not publish another word. When the manuscript for Go Set a Watchman appeared in 2014, there were immediate suspicions of elder abuse. Although the court in Alabama couldn’t find any reason for the allegations of elder abuse, the circumstances surrounding the new manuscript still seem murky. Friends and family members say that Harper Lee can’t see, can’t hear and will sign anything put in front of her. A piece in the New York Times declared the episode as being “one of the epic money grabs in the modern history of American publishing.”
It isn’t hard to find more cases of elder abuse.
In a case of a Power of Attorney being misused, Eunice Bellah, the widow of television and film art director Ross Bellah, was moved into a nursing home while her accountant sold off her house and belongings. Brooke Astor, a wealthy New York socialite, was left to spend her final days in squalor while her son helped himself to her money. Mickey Rooney filed restraining orders against his stepchildren, alleging that he was the victim of abuse, that they had made him a prisoner in his own house and that they had taken control of his finances.
Why is the financial abuse of the elderly on the rise?
It is usually the older people who have accumulated the most wealth. Most older people own their own home. As the Baby Boomer generation retires and gets older, they bring with them an additional asset – their superannuation. Older people live longer, with the average life expectancy now in the 80’s for both men and women. Yet with this old age comes the increased prevalence of dementia, with 50% of those over the age of 85 likely to suffer cognitive decline.
The most common perpetrator of elder abuse is a child of the older person, most usually the son. This creates a sense of shame, embarrassment and a sense that it’s their own fault in the victim and means that elder financial abuse is often not reported. Victims don’t want to cause upset in the family, or are worried about the consequences in their increasingly frail state. Older people may face pressure from family members who believe they should be able to access their inheritance early or that older people should use their assets to provide for their families. There are others who commit elder abuse – professionals such as accountants or financial planners, caregivers or nurses, tradespeople and scammers may take advantage of older people.
A 2011 study in the United States found that older people had lost nearly $3 billion a year in financial abuse, but continued under-reporting of the crime make it more likely to be much higher. In Australia, 1 in 5 older Australians experience elder abuse in some form, and that financial abuse is the most common type of abuse.
Elder financial abuse can take many forms:
- stealing cash or belongings
- forcing or influencing someone to change their will
- withholding funds from an older person
- transferring or selling property without the older person’s consent
- not repaying loans
- misusing a Power of Attorney
You can help prevent elder abuse by staying in close contact with your loved ones.
If you suspect someone is being financially abused, it’s important to seek legal advice immediately. A court may be able to intervene and assets saved. Please contact us today if you have concerns about elder abuse or elder law. We offer a free, 10-minute phone consultation.