Calling Queenslanders to help protect seniors from financial elder abuse
After recent media reports that Coronavirus restrictions have led to a rise in elder abuse cases1, the Public Trustee is reminding families, friends and neighbours to keep an eye out on our seniors for potential financial abuse.
With some of our elderly still in isolation and many Queenslanders facing financial hardship, the safety measures in place to protect our seniors from the virus may also be placing them at greater risk of experiencing elder abuse, Acting Public Trustee and CEO Samay Zhouand said.
“It’s a sad reality but the majority of cases that we witness of financial elder abuse involve direct family members, trusted friends or caregivers, or those who have been appointed as an enduring power of attorney, when someone loses capacity.
“Unfortunately, in times of low income or unemployment, some family members can become dependent on the older person for financial support under the guise of caring for and protecting them. We have also seen cases, were mental illness, such as depression, substance abuse and high stress situations can also lead to financial dependency,” he said.
Mr Zhouand said on the other hand the older person is trapped in a place where they are reliant on the family member for care, and have little option but to stay. There are also less people for the older person to talk to at the moment, with visitations from broader family and friends restricted. Therefore, it’s less likely for others to notice signs of abuse.
Like any type of elder abuse, financial abuse can be devastating to the victims, but it is often harder to recognise because the person has given some form of initial consent. Often the people in the community who the older person might confide in, don’t have the legal knowledge to pursue the matter.
There are many Queensland Government and advocacy groups working together today to raise awareness of the signs of abuse. These include Department of Communities, Disability Services & Seniors, Uniting Care, Office of the Public Guardian, Office of the Public Advocate, Blue Care, Lifeline, Caxton Legal and Elder Abuse Action Australia.
“At the Public Trustee, we usually come across cases when the Queensland Civil and Administration Tribunal (QCAT) identify someone with incapacity and refer them to the Public Trustee to help them administer their finances,” he said.
“When we analyse expenses and expenditure, it can quickly become very clear that misappropriation of funds has occurred. Some examples, include where the elderly person’s nominated attorney has sold the family home, put the elderly person into a nursing home, and then neglected to pay the fees with the money.
“When cases such as these are brought to the Public Trustee’s attention we advocate on behalf of the elderly and work with police, and where appropriate instigate legal processes and negotiate repayment plans on behalf of the victim with the perpetrators.”
The Public Trustee’s Acting Official Solicitor Customer Legal Services Kalliope Kyranakos said
misuse of an enduring power of attorney is a serious matter, and a grave abuse of trust.
Late last year the Public Trustee and the Public Guardian’s involvement lead to the arrest of a person who defrauded an 85-year-old woman of nearly $3 million. The elderly woman was incapacitated after suffering a stroke and the 77 year old was her attorney.
Mr Zhouand said the Public Trustee reports incidents of alleged elder abuse and can support family, friends and carers if they think an elderly person is being abused. We encourage people to reach out to the Elder Abuse hotline to report their suspicions in the first instance.
“Having an enduring power of attorney and an advanced health directive in place before you become incapacitated is still the safest option, but when choosing an attorney, it’s vital you choose someone whom you can trust to act in your best interests now and into the future,” he said.
The Public Trustee recommends asking yourself the following questions when choosing an attorney:
- Is your attorney able to give the time to take on the responsibility?
- Can they obey the instructions and directions and act according to any limits or conditions placed on their authority?
- Do they have the business and financial skills required to undertake the task?
- Can they avoid doing anything which would mean that their interests conflict with your interests?
- Can they make potentially difficult decisions free from pressure, for example from other siblings, or free from emotion for example when selling the family home and sorting contents?
- Are they susceptible to the inappropriate influence of others, such as a spouse or other family members?
- Can they be trusted to act impartially in your best interests, now and in the future?
- Do they understand and accept they are liable for the decisions they make?
- Are they accessible and accountable?
“Your attorney must also recognise your right to confidentiality and respect your views and wishes, taking into account your values and your existing relationships,” said Mr Zhouand.
If you have any concerns about your attorney or the person you propose to appoint, then you should consider appointing a professional, independent attorney. For further information contact your local solicitor, the Queensland Law Society or the Public Trustee on 1300 360 044.
If you see signs of elder abuse, please contact the Elder Abuse Helpline: 1300 651 192.
For more information visit www.pt.qld.gov.au