The financial abuse of older Australians is a growing, secret epidemic in our society. Due to its covert nature it is very difficult to gain accurate data of its growth rate precisely, but the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates that at least 9% of the generation is suffering each month.
What is it?
The epidemic is broadly defined by WHO as “any illegal or improper exploitation or use of the funds or resources of the older person” and is most commonly demonstrated in the form of asking for loans/loan guarantees which are never paid back, forgery of signatures, misuse of enduring powers of attorney, using an older person’s property to obtain a mortgage or finance, misrepresentation or just plain manipulation. The results are appalling, with victims being known to lose their home and life savings due to a sense of entitlement or ‘inheritance impatience’ which sweeps across the once trusted family member or friend.
A ‘text-book’ example of elder financial abuse is demonstrated by a 2007 Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) case where a 70 year old woman with dementia was collected from her nursing home by two adults claiming to be her adoptive children, who then took her to the local bank and asked her to withdraw all her savings. Thankfully, the bank teller was suspicious of the behaviour and alerted the Tribunal, demonstrating the importance of financial service providers being aware of the epidemic and its warning signs – especially considering how underreported the crime is.
WHO projects that in every 24 cases, only 1 is actually reported to authorities, with underreporting being significantly worse in developing countries.
What are the signs?
The signs of elder finance abuse are subtle, and are often uncovered by family members months if not years after the fact. To catch it early, look for things like an older person realising that they are unable to afford the level of care they once had, or that they can no longer pay their household bills even though as far as they are concerned their utility rates have not changed.
So what is being done about it?
On 20 February 2018 at the Fifth National Elder Abuse Conference in Sydney, the Attorney General made a speech announcing a new “National Plan” to address elder abuse. The Council of Attorneys-General have all agreed to work together to develop the plan after acknowledging that with Australia’s aging population, tackling the risk of abuse that faces people as they age is paramount.
The National Plan was a key recommendation of the 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission’s (ALRC) Report which highlighted a long list of examples of serious financial abuse, exploitation, physical abuse and neglect older people are facing, and it builds on existing research projects already commissioned through the Australian Institute of Family Studies.
As part of the Turnbull Government’s 2016 election commitment to protect the rights of older Australians, they are set to fund a national study to examine the prevalence of elder abuse in Australia, and then provide evidence-based findings to inform the National Plan.
“The national study will provide strong evidence base to ensure that the National Plan provides an appropriate framework for strategies and actions that all sectors of the community can take to protect older Australians from abuse and, in the future, track our progress from protecting them from abuse” said Attorney General the Hon Christian Porter MP.
The National Plan has five goals: to promote the autonomy and agency of older people, address ageism and promote community understanding of elder abuse, achieve national consistency, safeguard at-risk older people and improve responses; and build the evidence basis, a draft of which is expected by the end of 2018.
If you think a loved one, or friend of yours may be suffering from elder financial abuse, or simply want some further information. Do not hesitate to give the team at Hentys Lawyers a call today, our experienced professionals can provide you with expert assistance in Challenging a Will and Inheritance Disputes.