Su­san Hely

The el­derly can be an easy fi­nan­cial target for un­scrupu­lous rel­a­tives and friends

Money Magazine Australia - - CONTENTS -

When Jane’s daugh­ter told her that she needed a short-term loan ur­gently, Jane didn’t hes­i­tate. She sold down her small share port­fo­lio and gave her sav­ings to her daugh­ter.

Now Jane re­grets her gen­eros­ity. Her daugh­ter has no in­ten­tion of pay­ing her back, even though she orig­i­nally promised she would. Jane’s sav­ings helped sup­ple­ment her age pen­sion, paid the body cor­po­rate fees and pro­vided small lux­u­ries. Now Jane wor­ries about money all the time. Her apart­ment is fall­ing apart and she can’t af­ford to fix it. She can’t af­ford lit­tle trips with friends.

“I should never have helped my daugh­ter,” she says. “She is still work­ing but I am re­tired and am go­ing into debt. I prob­a­bly have to move to a cheaper flat away from my friends.”

Who would de­fraud and steal from old, frail peo­ple? The very peo­ple who of­fer sup­port: trusted daugh­ters, sons, lawyers, grand­kids, friends, nieces and neph­ews.

Older peo­ple are of­ten easy tar­gets, par­tic­u­larly with ris­ing rates of de­men­tia. They have sav­ings and of­ten own their own home. At the same time, their adult chil­dren and other care­givers are un­der fi­nan­cial pres­sure.

El­der abuse is be­com­ing recog­nised as a se­ri­ous is­sue in Australia, says Anna Hacker, a lawyer at Aus­tralian Unity Trus­tees. She says that while no one would like to be­lieve it could hap­pen to them, there are many ex­am­ples of chil­dren, other fam­ily mem­bers or neigh­bours act­ing dis­hon­estly and tak­ing ad­van­tage of el­derly peo­ple.

There is even an an­nual World El­der Abuse Aware­ness Day (June 15 each year). The World Health Or­gan­i­sa­tion es­ti­mates that about one in six peo­ple aged over 60 will be vic­tims each year. While it can in­clude phys­i­cal and psy­cho­log­i­cal abuse, of­ten it is fi­nan­cial abuse by us­ing an older per­son’s money or as­sets.

“It can hap­pen to any­one, re­gard­less of how much wealth they have, how strong they be­lieve their fam­ily ties are, or how ca­pa­ble they think they or their nom­i­nated at­tor­neys are,” says Hacker. “We have seen ex­am­ples of sons or daugh­ters tak­ing their mother into the bank and get­ting them to with­draw large sums of money, and then hand it over for their own per­sonal use.

“In other cases, we have seen adult chil­dren forc­ing their par­ents to take out a mort­gage on their home and then pock­et­ing the money, and the other sib­lings only find­ing out when the house needs to be sold to pay for aged care ac­com­mo­da­tion, or when their par­ent passes away.

“To most of us, such sto­ries seem un­be­liev­able but they are hap­pen­ing and, sadly, they are prob­a­bly hap­pen­ing more of­ten than we re­alise. Many el­derly par­ents are ei­ther too ashamed to ad­mit what their chil­dren are do­ing, or are cog­ni­tively im­paired and un­able to un­der­stand that they are be­ing left fi­nan­cially desti­tute.”

It is im­por­tant for older peo­ple to speak out. To help pro­tect them there is grow­ing num­ber of “el­der” lawyers. They spe­cialise in fi­nan­cial and su­per­an­nu­a­tion dis­putes or when oth­ers make de­ci­sions that the el­derly don’t agree with. They also go through

the con­tracts and le­gal agree­ments from nurs­ing homes and help with es­tate plan­ning, such as pre­par­ing a will.

Hacker says one of the best ways for the el­derly to pro­tect their fi­nan­cial af­fairs is to set up an en­dur­ing power of at­tor­ney. This adds an ex­tra layer of safety, as the at­tor­ney is then the only per­son a bank is au­tho­rised to deal with, says Hacker. In ad­di­tion, the at­tor­ney would mon­i­tor bank state­ments and would be alert to any unau­tho­rised or un­usual ac­tiv­ity.

It is vi­tal to choose the right per­son for the role, says Hacker. “We al­ways ad­vise peo­ple to care­fully con­sider who they can trust, and not just to choose their old­est child, for ex­am­ple.”

If they don’t want to bur­den a fam­ily mem­ber with the role, they can choose an ac­coun­tant or a lawyer or the state pub­lic trustee and guardian.

Su­san Hely has been a se­nior in­vest­ment writer at The Syd­ney Morn­ing Her­ald. She wrote the best-sell­ing Women & Money.

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