As parents age and their physical and mental capacities diminish, their adult children will often step in to provide care. One child may take over the majority of day-to-day responsibilities, including things like facilitating appointment with doctors and attorneys. As this continues to happen, the parent increasingly depends on that child, and it can make sense to appoint that child as a trusted decision maker and to even give them a larger portion of the inheritance to compensate for their time. However, it’s critical that other family members make sure that the elderly parent is not being taken advantage of by a calculating caretaker.
Risk Factors for Financial Exploitation
As life expectancy continues to increase and more seniors live into their eighties and nineties, elder abuse is both serious and increasingly common. The abuse sustained by seniors can take many different forms, including physical, sexual, emotional, and verbal abuse or even caretaker neglect and exploitation. Financial exploitation makes up about half of all elder abuse cases in the United States. This includes outright theft of money or property, illegal transfers of property, identity theft, and misusing a position of trust, like through a power of attorney.
Research shows that seniors may be more likely to be financially exploited if they have some of the following characteristics:
- Physical limitations that require dependence on others for simple, everyday tasks
- Mental limitations, including dementia, injury, or side effects from medication
- Recent death of a family member or loved one, like a spouse or sibling
- Social isolation or living alone
- Anxiety and depression
- Naivety or lack of judgement
- Limited financial knowledge or experience, especially in cases where their finances were always handled in the past by a spouse or partner
Caretakers who financially exploit their patients may not always start out with sinister intentions. However, as time goes on, they may begin to feel entitled to the elderly person’s money or property.
Although financial exploitation is typically committed by a family member, it can also occur at the hands of anyone whom the elderly person trusts, such as a neighbor, a fellow church member, a housekeeper, or a professional adviser.
Warning Signs of Exploitation
Some of the warning signs that a calculating caretaker may have crossed the line into elder abuse include:
- Cash or other valuable possessions disappearing
- Suspicious bank account activity, including unusual charges or withdrawals
- Unexplained transfer of accounts to another bank or person
- Changes to legal documents, like their power of attorney, will, or trust
- Adding the caretaker’s name to accounts as a joint owner or payable-on-death beneficiary
- Alternate or forged signatures on checks or applications for credit cards or loans
- Social isolation of the senior, such as limiting their phone calls, emails, texts, and social visits with friends and family
- Unpaid bills or concerns about not having enough money when there is sufficient income or other available financial resources
- Inexplicable changes in the senior’s mood or interests
Preventing Financial Exploitation
Although the financial abuse of elders is estimated to cost billions of dollars a year, it regularly goes unreported. Often, the senior who is affected either doesn’t know the abuse is occurring or is too scared or embarrassed to report it. Taking the time to educate yourself and those you love. Knowing the warning signs of financial exploitation can help you spot a calculating caretaker. You can greatly reduce your risk by planning ahead, building a trusted community network, and creating and maintaining your estate planning documents.
Michaelson Law can help you take the steps necessary to protect yourself or your loved ones and plan ahead as you age. Contact us at (702) 731-2333 to get more details or set up a consultation.
 Michael J. Tueth, M.D., Exposing Financial Exploitation of Impaired Elderly Persons, 8 Am. J. Geriatric Psychiatry 104 (2000), https://www.ajgponline.org/article/S1064-7481(12)61467-5/fulltext.
 Martin Hagan, Financial Exploitation of the Elderly through Undue Influence: How to Spot It and What to Do about It, Martin Hagan’s Estate Planning Resource Center, https://haganlaw.net/?page_id=95 (last visited Apr. 27, 2022).
 Marguerita Cheng, Elder Financial Exploitation: Warning Signs, Prevention and Reporting, U.S.News and World Report (May 27, 2021, 2:09 PM), https://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/the-smarter-mutual-fund-investor/articles/elder-financial-exploitation-warning-signs-prevention-and-reporting.