Preventing Elder Financial Abuse: Guide for Family and Friends of People Living in Nursing Homes and Assisted Living Communities
The exploitation of elderly people is a serious problem across the United States today. This particularly is the case when an older person relies upon someone else for care and assistance.
Elder exploitation comes in a number of different forms:
- Physical abuse
- Emotional abuse
- Sexual abuse
- Financial abuse
In this article, we present a comprehensive guide for family and friends of people living in nursing homes and assisted living communities in regard to elder financial abuse.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Investopedia defines elder financial abuse as:
Financial elder abuse involves taking advantage of older people and unfairly benefiting from their monetary resources. Family members, business associates, caregivers, and strangers sometimes financially abuse elders by taking advantage of their trust. Tactics involved in financial elder abuse include the unauthorized use of an older person’s assets, gaining power of attorney by way of trickery, or engaging in fraud.
Financial abuse is a form of what more broadly is known as the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of an older person.
Individuals most at risk for financial elder abuse include older adults, particularly those who depend on personal care from others. This includes older women and men living in long-term care facilities.
Consequences of Elder Financial Abuse
Elder financial abuse is a complicated, complex matter. When a person in a nursing home or assisted living community is the victim of financial abuse, it affects that individual, his or her family, and the community.
In some instances, a person who is the victim of elder financial abuse may lose his or her life savings. An individual victimized in this manner may have to move out of a nursing home or assisted living community because of nonpayment.
A financial abuse survivor can be said to have lost more than money or property. Financial abuse can also result in:
- Emotional harm
- Depression or anxiety
- Poor physical health
- Loss of independence
- Trouble making decisions
- Shorter life expectancy
Four Steps of Successful Elder Financial Abuse Intervention
At the heart of protecting your mother or father (or other relative) residing in a nursing home or assisted living community are what are known as the four steps of successful elder financial abuse intervention. These four steps are discussed in greater detail in this article.
- Prevent elder financial abuse
- Recognize elder financial abuse
- Record elder financial abuse
- Report elder financial abuse
How to Prevent Elder Financial Abuse
Ideally, the financial abuse of an older woman or man living in an assisted living home is prevented before it happens. There are strategies that can be employed to lower the risk that an older person living in a nursing home or assisted living becomes the victim of elder financial abuse. These strategies include:
- Maintaining regular contact with your parent in a nursing home or assisted living
- Use technology to monitor your parent’s finances
- Work with staff at nursing home or assisted living community regarding financial issues
First and foremost, if you are the adult child of a parent living in a nursing home or assisted living community, remaining in regular contact with your mother or father is a primary way in which elder financial abuse can be prevented in the first instance. By maintaining regular contact with your parent or another older person in a long-term care community of some type you will be in a better position to identify the signs of potential financial abuse. By keeping in regular touch with your parent in a nursing home or assisted living, you send out a message to others that someone is watching out for your mother or father. This makes it less likely that your parent will be targeted for financial abuse.
In addition to maintaining contact with your parent you should also maintain contact with care team members on a regular and recurring basis as well. This also sends out the message that you are involved with your parent, that there is someone closely watching over your mother or father.
If you live at a distance and cannot see your parent in person as much as you like, consider finding a trusted relative or friend closer to your mother or father who might be able to personally check in on your parent and with staff on your behalf. This can be a helpful alternative to your own presence at a long-term care facility when you do not live close to the facility or community.
Second, use technology to monitor your parent’s finances. In this day and age, bank accounts and other types of financial accounts can be monitored digitally. You can work with your parent and their financial institutions to utilize digital technology to ensure that unauthorized use of your parent’s accounts is not occurring.
As an aside, technology can also be utilized as a means to maintain closer contact with your mother or father. This particularly is the case if you do not live in particularly close proximity to your parent’s nursing home or assisted living community.
Third, when your parent moves into a nursing home or assisted living community, you need to work with staff – particularly administrative staff – to understand how your mother or father will be financially protected while living in a particular facility or community. Examples of what you will want to discuss with administration staff members at a nursing home or assisted living community include:
- Policies and procedures for managing money while a person resides in a nursing home or assisted living community (this includes managing a resident’s personal needs allowance and receipt of Medicare or Medicaid payments)
- Policies about responding to and reporting instances of suspected theft and financial abuse
- Polices about phone calls or visits from salespeople
- How staff work to protect a resident’s checkbook, ATM card, federal benefit debit card, and so forth
- How staff helps protect online accounts
- How staff helps protect information a resident might have stored on a computer or other device
By employing the tactics outlined for you in this section, you will put your parent or other loved one in a better position to be protected from elder financial abuse while residing in a nursing home or assisted living community.
How to Recognize Elder Financial Abuse
Elder financial abuse comes in a variety of forms. Therefore, you need to be vigilant about possible signs of elder financial abuse if you have a parent or other loved one living in a nursing home or assisted living community. There are a number of areas in which you need to look for signs of elder financial abuse. These are:
- Things your parent says or things you generally observe
- Things you observe in your parent’s living space
- Problems with family members or friends
- Issues with managing money or paying bills
- Problems with financial caretaker
- Issues with checks, charges, and gifts
Some basic observations might be made that suggest that your parent might be the target of elder financial abuse. These observations include:
- Parent says someone is misusing or stealing their money or property
- Parent says a checkbook, credit or debit card, or important papers are missing
- Parent becomes more private or secretive
Living Space Observations
Evidence of elder financial abuse might also be observed in the living area of a resident of nursing home or assisted living community. Examples of this type of evidence includes:
- Missing possessions
- Possessions replaced with items of lesser value
- Missing medications
- Blank withdrawal forms or checkbooks are left out in the open
Problems With Family or Friends
Issues with family or friends can be indicative of someone preying on your mother or father financially. As regrettable as this is to note, in a good number of cases the perpetrator of elder financial abuse is a family member or a person held out as a friend of the victim. Examples of evidence suggesting this type of nefarious conduct include:
- A family member or friend puts pressure on your parent to make a financial decision, change a will, deed, or trust, or to sign an important document immediately
- A family member or friend threatens that unless your parent takes some financial action, they will stop taking care of your loved one
- You are permitted to visit your loved one only when a certain person is present
- A family member or friend often interrupts or speaks for your loved one
- A new friend seems possessive of your parent, and isolates them from you or other friends and family
- A family member, friend, or financial caregiver, has a problem with gambling, drugs, or alcohol
- Your family is arguing about your loved one’s money
- After you start asking questions about suspected financial abuse, someone tells you they plan to move your loved one to a new location
Money Management of Bill Paying Issues
Money management issues and bill payment problems are also indicative that your parent is the target of elder financial abuse in some instances. Signs this may be occurring include:
- Unpaid bills with the nursing home or assisted living community, doctor, or pharmacy, especially when your parent should have enough money to cover their expenses
- Your parent gets bills for unnecessary services or medical equipment
- The person managing your parent’s money is late paying bills or breaks their promises
Financial Caretaker Problems
Your parent may have granted a power of attorney to someone. In the alternative, someone may more informally be assisting your parent with financial issues. Signs can appear in this area that indicate elder financial abuse might be occurring:
- Someone says they are your parent’s financial caregiver but does not have any written proof, such as a power of attorney document signed by your loved one
- Your parent is not able to make their own decisions, but they sign a new power of attorney, will, or other legal document
- Multiple financial caregivers argue over who is responsible for paying your parent’s bills
- A financial caregiver who has been helping your parent is suddenly replaced with a new person
- A financial caregiver is not meeting your parent’s needs
- Someone pressures your loved one to refuse medical care or medication due to cost
Issues With Checks, Charges, and Gifts
Finally, evidence of elder financial abuse might be demonstrated with issues arising from checks, charges, and gift giving:
- Checks or other documents are signed when your parent is no longer able to write
- You see different versions of your parent’s signature or you see a signature that was shaky is suddenly firm
- Your parent’s account has many checks made out to “cash,” or checks are used out of number order
- You see credit card or debit card charges for items that your mother or father did not buy
- Your parent makes gifts (either frequent or expensive) to care team members or volunteers
- Your mother or father one sells valuable items to care team members or volunteers
By staying attuned to different signs that elder financial abuse might be occurring, you best ensure that your parent or other older loved one will be protected when living in a nursing home or assisted living community.
How to Record Elder Financial Abuse
Keeping a detailed record of suspected elder financial abuse can be invaluable when it comes to taking action to address the theft and to deal with the perpetrator. The following steps should be taking in regard to appropriately record suspected elder financial care are crucial:
- Write down any warning signs of suspected elder financial abuse (those signs discussed thoroughly a moment ago)
- Include dates, times, locations, and details of these warning signs whenever possible
- Make a list of individuals who may be witnesses to suspected elder financial abuse
- Take photographs or videos whenever appropriate and possible
- Keep a record of all communications with a suspected elder financial abuser
- Make a list of people you have spoken with about your concerns
- Talk to appropriate nursing home or assisted living staff members about your concerns (and make sure they document your reports of concern in their own records)
How to Report Elder Financial Abuse
When elder financial abuse occurs in a nursing home or assisted living community, the illegal conduct must be reported to a number of entities:
- Elder financial abuse needs to be reported to the administration of a nursing home or assisted living community
- Elder financial abuse needs to be reported to law enforcement
- Elder financial abuse needs to be reported to adult protective services
The hope is that this guide will be a helpful resource to you and your family when you have a parent residing in a nursing home or assisted living community. The materials in this book have been time-tested and proven useful in optimizing the financial security of older women and men residing in nursing homes and in assisted living communities.