Elder Abuse Big and Small

When the U.S.  Senate Special Committee on Aging held its first hearing a couple of months ago, the topic was “Broken Trust: Combating Financial Exploitation of Vulnerable Seniors.”   Committee Chair Susan Collins (R-ME), who shares my alma mater of St. Lawrence University in Canton, NY, announced that the 3 areas of focus for 2015 would be financial schemes and scams, retirement security and investments in biomedical research.  The committee challenged Congress and state legislators to pass laws that encourage both prosecution of the wrongdoers and the ability of victims to recover their losses in civil actions. (To view a recording of the hearings and to read the members’ and witnesses’ statements, go to http://www.aging.senate.gov/hearings/broken-trust_combating-financial-exploitation-of-vulnerable-seniors.)

One of the witnesses at the Senate hearing described the important role that financial institutions play in spotting, and then stopping, exploitation and abuse.  One of my clients, a recent widower, benefitted from this when a young woman appeared to befriend him.  When she accompanied the gentleman to the bank to make a large cash withdrawal, the customer service representative was alert enough to recognize that this was completely out of character for their customer.  The representative called her manager to discuss the request, and the young woman quickly disappeared.  My client as a bit embarrassed, but his savings remained in tact.

Those of us who work with seniors know that the exploiter can also be a family member, and the exploitation can often be  subtle.  Another client, who suffers from some health challenges but is mentally competent, moved into his son’s home when he felt that he could no longer be alone.  His son has now suggested that he put an addition on the home to give his dad more privacy, but at a large cost, which he expects his dad to pay.  The son has also suggested that his father give him access to his accounts, to make it easier for the reimbursement for dad’s expenses to  be transferred.  Dad’s savvy financial advisor brought this to my attention, and we are now protecting dad’s funds in a Trust, with an institutional trustee.   Dad is now evaluating whether to stay with his son and contribute to the home modifications, or move to a senior facility. But the decision – and its cost – will now be his choice.


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