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What are the warning signs of suspected financial elder abuse?

The financial abuse of elderly people is a growing problem with a close family member increasingly the perpetrator.

A survey commissioned by Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, suggests the problem has been exacerbated by the isolation and lockdowns that have accompanied the Covid-19 pandemic.

Shockingly, it also revealed that 32% of people did not think taking money from an elderly person’s bank account or removing precious items from their home without permission, counted as abuse.

On top of this, searches on Google for ‘financial abuse by family members’ soared by 100% between 2020 and 2021.

What are the most common kinds of financial elder abuse?

It can be carried out by anyone close to the victim – spouses, children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, carers and those in a position of trust and responsibility.

Often fuelled by a sense of misplaced moral justification that they are simply claiming an inheritance that is rightfully theirs, and which they feel they are having to wait too long for, examples include:

  • Theft and the improper use of money or assets;
  • Fraud including forging signatures;
  • Misuse of powers of attorney and other legal documents;
  • Forcing the elderly person to sign a document through deception, coercion or undue influence, for example transferring ownership of a car or shares;
  • Persuading someone to pay more than they need to for something, like accommodation or shopping, and pocketing the difference.

What are the warning signs of suspected financial elder abuse?

The most common indicator is often a sudden or unexpected change which might include:

  • Unexplained withdrawals from bank accounts or significant transfers of money;
  • Extra names on bank accounts or benefit payments;
  • The sudden arrival on the scene of previously uninvolved relatives or ‘close friends’;
  • A change in the victim’s spending habits – for instance, a sudden increase in the amount of money being withdrawn each week when it’s been the same for years.

What should I do if I suspect someone of financial elder abuse?

Financial abuse is a crime reportable to the police and Hourglass, formerly Action on Elder Abuse, has a confidential helpline to provide information, advice and support to victims and anyone concerned about abuse. It is 0808 8088 141.

How can a solicitor help spot the warning signs of elder abuse?

Using a solicitor to draw up important documents like a Will or a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) for an older client offers an important safeguard against abuse.

Using DIY online versions of these documents means there is little to stop an elderly person being misled into signing something they don’t understand or aren’t happy with by someone they trust or don’t want to offend by raising questions.

A solicitor, who is trained to look out for anything that doesn’t seem right, will always spend time with the elderly person to make sure they really want to enter into the proposed transaction.

Read more about what we have written on this subject by clicking here.

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Wards Solicitors is ranked as a leading firm in the South West in the 2022 edition of Legal 500 with our Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity team highly recommended.

Our specialist lawyers are all highly experienced. Most are members of Solicitors for the Elderly (SFE) and the Society of Trust and Estate Practitioners (STEP). Both organisations require the highest standards of their members with proven qualifications and experience.

We can explain how to reduce the risk of abuse and prepare legal documents which contain the appropriate safeguards and provide the relevant advice to the elderly client’s legally appointed attorney or deputy.

Please contact any member of Wards Solicitors’ Wills, Probate and Mental Capacity Team.

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