Plan now to prevent physical and financial abuse in your older years
The Justice Department and Health and Human Services estimate that 1 in 10 older adults have been a victim of physical abuse or financial exploitation, or both. Surprisingly, the perpetrator isn’t always a stranger. Too often, it’s someone known to the victim and, in many cases, a family member.
It is important to recognize that as we age, vulnerability to abuse and exploitation increases. The first step in protecting ourselves is simply acknowledging that our own cognitive abilities may decline as a result of disease or part of the natural aging process. Putting a plan in place now for future assistance from trusted parties with oversight, or checks and balances, is the next step.
Two key principles in helping to preventing abuse or exploitation are visibility and oversight. Make sure your situation and information regarding finances is available to trusted parties who can monitor or review your care and finances on a regular basis.
Following are a few specific suggestions.
Preventing Physical Abuse
- Execute appropriate health care documents, including an advance care directive or health care power of attorney, designating someone to make health care decisions for you when you are unable to do so for yourself.
- Recognize that although living at home may be emotionally preferable, it may also make you more vulnerable to abuse. Being in an assisted living situation with regular meals and daily interaction with others helps maintain cognitive abilities and allows others to monitor your physical care situation.
- Have someone other than your caregiver monitor your condition, whether living in assisted living or at home.
- Have family members review information available from federal and state agencies on recognizing the signs of elder abuse and financial exploitation.
Preventing Financial Exploitation
- Give a trusted family member or friend (or perhaps your accountant) the ability to monitor your financial accounts. Some banks have special accounts that allow a third person to monitor an account without the ability to withdraw funds.
- Execute a durable power of attorney for financial affairs designating one or more trusted individuals as agents to handle your financial affairs. This can be helpful in removing some of the pressure caused by the seemingly endless requests for donations and financial assistance.
- Consider naming two agents to serve jointly on significant matters such as financial transactions more than a specific amount. This creates a check-and-balance system.
- Have your agent(s) give you and another trusted individual an accounting of your finances on a regular basis. This is a protection to you and your agent.
- Use a third-party, professional financial agent for payment of bills.
- Develop a relationship with the employees at the local branch of your bank as they are trained to recognize financial abuse of the elderly.
- Consider limiting the scope of some powers listed in the power of attorney. For example, granting the ability to make gifts or change beneficiaries may provide flexibility but also creates a significant potential for abuse.