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Legal Guidance  

Financial Elder Abuse

The financial abuse of Brooke Astor — played out in criminal courts and tabloids in 2009 — was a vivid reminder of the vulnerability a disease such as Alzheimer’s causes, opening the door to potential financial abuse. The Alzheimer’s Association educates families and caregivers on the ways people can be victimized, stressing advance planning to ensure that someone with dementia will be as secure and safe as possible, physically and fiscally.

While technology has made it easier to access money through telephone or online banking, ATM’s, automated bill paying and easy application for new credit lines, it has also made it easier to be victimized. Two recent examples show how simple it can be. In one, the boyfriend of the victim’s caretaker used stolen checking account information to pay his cable and phone bills online. Because bank statements were not reviewed carefully, the theft was not caught for many months. In another, a home health aide who was completely trusted by the family opened credit cards in the name of the victim. The caretaker avoided detection by picking up the mail each day and intercepting the statements. The fraud was discovered when the credit card company called the house about a delinquent account — and a family member answered the phone.

Possible Signs of Financial Abuse

The person with dementia is:
  • Receiving an insufficient amount of physical care given his/her needs.
  • Isolated from family, friends or community.
  • Confused or forgetful about finances, or voices concerns such as missing funds.
  • Facing foreclosure or eviction.
Also be on the lookout for:
  • Excessive involvement by a stranger or new friend in finances, banking or decision-making.
  • A caregiver who fails to account properly for funds (NOTE: providing an ATM card to a caregiver is not recommended).
What To Do If You Suspect Financial Abuse

The key is to take immediate action and do whatever you can to stop further access to the assets of the victim:
  • Call the local county Adult Protective Services or area Office for the Aging. Complaints in many states are confidential.
  • Call the District Attorney assigned to adult financial abuse complaints in your county.
  • Notify all financial institutions where the PWD is holding an account.
  • Call the Alzheimer’s Association 24-hour Helpline for further assistance at l-800-272-3900.
Planning To Avoid Financial Abuse

These measures will help safeguard the potential victim:
  • Protect the privacy of all financial records.
  • Send duplicate financial statements, credit card bills, and utility bills to a trusted individual and review them monthly. Also have mail forwarded if the potential victim can no longer review it.
  • Run regular credit checks to discover any new or recently opened credit accounts.
  • Have the potential victim execute a Statutory Power of Attorney with a lawyer, naming trustworthy family or friends to act as agent in financial matters. If possible, name multiple agents and successor agents, which spreads the workload of reviewing statements and permits agents to check on each other.
This article does not comprehensively cover the topic of financial abuse, but hopefully raises your awareness and motivates you to inquire about ways to protect your loved one against financial abuse. For more resources, go to www.seniorlaw.com.

JEFFREY G. ABRANDT is a partner at Goldfarb Abrandt Salzman & Kutzin LL P, with offices in New York City and White Plains, New York. The firm concentrates in litigation, trusts and estates, health law, guardianship and rights of the elderly and disabled. Mr. Abrandt has successfully litigated class action suits involving the rights of nursing home residents and the Medicaid program, resulting in expanded rights for applicants and recipients. He has spoken about elder law on television, radio and in many publications, including the Wall Street Journal and New York Times. He can be reached at abrandt@seniorlaw.com.

Alzheimer's Association

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Formed in 1980, the Alzheimer's Association is the world's leading voluntary health organization in Alzheimer's care, support and research.