What is Elder Abuse? Is there really Elder Abuse in Australia in 2020?
At Butlers we have encountered an increasing number of examples of Elder Abuse over the last five years.
Although we have previously had experience from time to time with Elder Abuse the incidence of Elder Abuse appears to have increased substantially in recent years.
What is Elder Abuse? It does not necessarily involve physical abuse. It may involve intimidation or emotional duress. It may simply be financial abuse.
Some examples of financial abuse of an elder include:
The child who moves back in with an ageing parent and places the parent under constant pressure to provide the child with funds. This may include using grandchildren as a means of “extorting” money from the parent. It may simply involve taking the parent’s money when the parent has either lost capacity through Alzheimer's or Dementia, or taking money from the parent’s handbag, or bank account, without the parent’s knowledge or agreement.
The friend who prevails upon a vulnerable older person to make them a beneficiary of their Will, or to give cash or property to them, is committing abuse. Some older people do this simply to have company or retain what is sometimes the only relationship they have.
The child who persuades a parent to fund the cost of substantial extensions or improvements to the child's home on the basis that the child will then provide accommodation and support for the parent, which ultimately does not happen, commits abuse. Worse, the parent may briefly move into the home, only to be placed in care once they become a burden on the child.
If the elder is still alive cases such as those above will usually involve an application to the State Administrative Tribunal for Orders in relation to guardianship and administration.
If the abuse is only discovered after the elder has passed away then the proceedings will be in the Supreme Court usually in relation to the validity of the Will or by way of a claim on the Estate.
How can you avoid, or at least reduce the risk of, elder abuse?
See a lawyer who is competent and experienced in this area and have them prepare your Will and your Enduring Power of Attorney and your Enduring Power of Guardianship. If you cannot rely on your child or children carefully choose a friend or professional person whom you do trust and who is capable of protecting you from attempts to abuse you. This can be extremely difficult for an older person living with a dominant child or friend who threatens and controls them. Sometimes the older person will take steps to ensure that their wishes are ultimately implemented by having documents prepared and signed without the knowledge of the abuser.
It is important that you take the steps before there is any question about your mental capacity. Some children abuse their parents by threatening to have them found to be mentally incapable and placed in care. We have encountered examples of older people living in terror as a result of the threats made by their children. There is certainly a pressing need in Australia in 2020 for more assistance for the elderly including assistance to protect them from physical, emotional and financial abuse.