The Government of Canada reports financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in this country. And it is becoming increasingly prevalent. Typically, abusers are people you have a close connection with including your spouse, children, a relative, friend, neighbour, or caregiver. They use their connection to take advantage of you to get what they want.
Those who are alone, lonely or in poor health are more vulnerable to financial abuse, according to the government. Financial abuse can be difficult to recognize and is often a pattern occurring over a period of time, rather than an isolated incident.
What is important to remember is that your money or any assets you own belong to you, even if you have given someone Power of Attorney (POA) to take care of your finances. If you are being financially abused there are steps you can take.
What is Financial Abuse of the Elderly?
Financial exploitation is the illegal or unauthorized use of someone else's money or property and can include strangers targeting unsuspecting seniors in phone scams. It also includes coercing or pressuring the victim for financial gain.
Commonly in cases of abuse, an elderly person will be victimized by a family member whom they rely upon. It can be as overt as someone cashing your pension cheque and keeping the money without your knowledge or consent. The person you appoint as your Power of Attorney could also decide to take money from your bank account for their own use without your approval. The misuse of authority granted under a Power of Attorney can also lead to the appropriation or theft of your financial assets. The person with your POA may also try to transfer your property into joint assets or take involuntary monetary gifts.
The Government of Canada states there are other examples of financial abuse that can be difficult to classify and can include pressuring, forcing or tricking you into:
- lending or giving away money, property or possessions;
- selling or moving from your home;
- making or changing your will or power of attorney;
- signing legal or financial documents that you don't understand;
- working for little or no money, including caring for children or grandchildren;
- making a purchase you don't want or need; or
- providing food and shelter to others without being paid.
Elderly Financial Abuse is on the Rise
According to Statistics Canada, seniors aged 65 and older represent about 17 per cent of the Canadian population and that percentage is increasing. StatsCan reports up to 10 per cent of seniors experience abuse but only 20 per cent of those incidents are reported to someone who is able to help.
According to a Globe and Mail report, one in five seniors will experience financial abuse at the hands of family members, friends or caregivers. An emerging problem is social distancing measures brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, which has forced many seniors to become more isolated and potentially more vulnerable to abuse.
“Elder abuse and neglect is skyrocketing, and it appears during the time of COVID-19, it’s going to get worse, not better,” Laura Tamblyn Watts, president and chief executive officer of CanAge, a national seniors’ advocacy group, told the Globe.
What Can I Do If I Suspect Elder Abuse?
There are red flags you can look for: Is there an unusual number of financial transactions on your accounts? Are new bills suddenly being paid? Are there changes in spending patterns? Is money being spent in places you do not recognize?
Once you discover financial abuse you have three options. You can seek help through the Elder Abuse unit of the local police department. You can also turn to civil court, which can order the removal of the Power of Attorney, the repayment of improperly obtained property or money, or order an accounting of your assets.
You can also look into criminal charges. Although there is no specific charge of elder financial abuse in the Criminal Code, the crime is covered under theft and fraud provisions. In order to be successful in criminal court, all elements of a charge must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.
Get Your Estate in Order
We can develop a plan for your estate to help protect you while you are alive and ensure your wishes are respected after you pass away. If you are concerned that you are experiencing elder abuse or are a family member concerned that an elderly adult is being financially abused, please contact our office.