All too often, the problem of elder abuse goes unrecognized and most of these egregious crimes go unreported.  Sadly, they are often committed by family members. Often, relatives pilfer elders’ financial assets by gaining power of attorney or guardianship.

“A guardian is a person or entity appointed by a court to exercise some or all authority over a person and/or estate,” says NASAA President and Alabama Securities Commission Director Joseph Borg.

“A guardian has power to make decisions related to the health and safety of the incapacitated person.  Financial abuse by guardians occurs when the guardian improperly uses the protected individual’s financial accounts.”

What are the indicators that something may be amiss?  Here are five telltale signs provided by the North American Securities Administrators Association.

  • Using guardianship authority to transfer property for the guardian’s benefit.
  • Receiving personal payments from a protected individual without court permission.
  • Authorizing frequent cash withdrawals from the protected individual’s accounts without explanation.
  • Using or borrowing property for benefit without court authorization.
  • Making unexplained decisions that are not in the protected individual’s best interest.

The best weapon in the fight against elder financial abuse is vigilance. Hold a family meeting to discuss how to best protect a loved one.  Ideally, an elder has set up safeguards by assigning guardianship years before they age.

What should you cover in the meeting?  Your older loved one will need someone in your family to gain financial and health care powers of attorney.  These documents will ensure that if someone is incapacitated, a responsible third party can make decisions for them.

At a certain age, your older relatives will be unable to do things like pay bills or monitor their investments.  It’s a natural consequence of age and cognitive decline – and, they may be suffering from dementia.

Ideally, you should have more than one family member granted the power of attorney.  There are boilerplate forms online or you can go through an elder law attorney. personal

Also, monitor the people your older relatives talk to.  The elderly are constant targets of scams.

The good news is, if you keep the lines of communication open – and remain vigilant – you can serve as a compassionate watchdog within your family.  That is the greatest gift of all you can give your loved one.

For more resources on protecting the elderly, see NASAA’s Serve Our Seniors site.