My dog’s specialty vet closed her practice last week, a result of an elder experience that’s becoming far too commonplace in today’s world.
When I asked why she was shutting down, my vet told me she’d been struggling over the past year to deal with issues related to her aging mother. The problems had become too exhausting and frustrating, she said.
Her mother was declining mentally, and because she lives three hours away by plane, my vet had no idea of the extent of her ailment. It turns out the vet’s brother was writing checks to himself and having their mother, while in a state of cognitive impairment, sign them.
The checks—which ranged from $ 2,000 to $ 10,000— drained their mother’s bank account.
When confronted, the brother said he thought she was writing the same checks to all the siblings.
After months of working with an elder-law attorney, my vet was tremendously frustrated when they were unable to produce solid proof of financial abuse. Her mother did, after all, sign the checks, the son was her power of attorney and she had yet to be officially diagnosed with dementia.
The woman has now been declared incompetent and there is a professional fiduciary overseeing any disbursement of funds.
As my vet explained all this to me, I recounted a financial-abuse story that had occurred within my own extended family. My story had a happier ending, as we were able to recover the funds, but so many victims can’t.
What surprised my vet most was that virtually everyone she told her story to had their own similar tale. What’s clear: Elder financial abuse is on the rise.
The current senior population (age 75 and above) is one of the wealthiest, if not the wealthiest generation, in terms of their retirement savings, which make them a very attractive mark.
It’s estimated that older Americans lose $36.5 billion each year to financial scams and abuse. Older adults experiencing cognitive decline are just a segment of the victims.
Experts say the $36.5 billion that is reported is probably understated, as victims are afraid or embarrassed to report the crime. According to the National Adult Protective Services Association, only one in 44 cases of financial abuse are ever reported.
Ninety percent of abusers are family members or other people the victim trusts.
The California Department of Justice has produced “A Citizen’s Guide to Preventing and Reporting Elder Abuse,” which can be found online and provides helpful tips to help prevent elder abuse of all kinds.
In my vet ’s case, she was unable, as of this time, to gain restitution for her mother. She promised me she is not giving up, and her pursuit to right the wrong is one of the main reasons for retiring her practice.
The California Association for Nursing Home Reform has published an excellent guide, “Elder Financial Abuse Restitution Guide: How to Get Your Money Back,” which outlines the steps for recovering lost funds.
As you make holiday visits to senior relatives and neighbors, be on the lookout for signs of abuse, which may include frequent cash withdrawals, checks made out to individuals for undocumented services, financial passwords shared with multiple individuals and requests to change estate-planning documents.
If you suspect something isn’t right, don’t hesitate to confront the perpetrator and get the proper authorities involved.
Theft should be reported to law enforcement officials. There are local and state social services agencies in every state to help elderly victims of financial abuse. The National Center on Elder Abuse (ncea.aoa.gov) can point residents to an elder abuse hotline.
As difficult as it is for so many of us to deal with the cognitive decline and loss of abilities of an elderly loved one, we must not stand by and watch their lifetime savings drained as well.
Andrea Gallagher, a certified senior advisor, is president of Senior Concerns, a nonprofit agency serving Ventura and western Los Angeles counties. For more information, visit www.seniorconcerns.org, and for comments or questions, email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.