In Asian cultures, elderly family members are revered and respected. They are considered honorable family leaders and it is a privilege to be in their company. The traditional concept of “filial piety” demands that younger family members show obedience, respect and deference to elders.

In the United States, things are much different. Children are often far-flung, living hundreds of miles away from their hometowns and families. The pursuit of personal ambitions often takes precedence over caring for elderly family members. As a result, aging parents and loved ones are often left to fend for themselves or are warehoused in nursing homes or other facilities. Many suffer from diminished eyesight and memory, restricted mobility, and are no longer able to drive or complete everyday tasks without assistance.

Unfortunately, our approach to aging makes seniors ripe for financial exploitation. And sadly, this abuse is often perpetrated by family members who view their aging relative as an easy target. In fact, financial exploitation – in essence, stealing money or valuables from the elderly – is the most commonly reported type of elder abuse. And it can range from blatantly stealing Social Security checks, cash, jewelry and other personal items to subtly taking ownership of a loved one’s home or real estate holdings over time.

Financial Exploitation Is The Ultimate Breach Of Trust

Protect your loved one…

Get involved! Suspicion is the best course of action if you think your aging loved one is being exploited.

Does Mom suddenly have a new “friend” who is always around? Is a relative suddenly showing increased interest in her health or financial affairs? Does Mom rarely come to the phone when you call? Have you noticed a change in her behavior?

 Don’t ignore these red flags! Conduct your own investigation. If something seems odd or unusual, it probably is.

• Look for a trail of unpaid bills if someone other than you has been assigned to make these payments

• Check for missing property, large or unexplained withdrawals from accounts, gifts of cash or “loans” to caregivers, friends or relatives, or new authorized signers on bank accounts

• Is your loved one making purchases that he or she clearly does not use or need?

• Have there been recent changes to wills or powers of attorney – especially involving beneficiaries?

And while you’re at it, protect yourself…

Chances are you already have provisions in place for handling your financial affairs. Take time to review those decisions and see if they’re still right for you.

Secure your everyday accounts – set up direct deposit for Social Security checks (which as of March 31, 2013, must be deposited directly to your bank account or credited to a debit card), tax refunds, pension payments, or any other sources of income. Take it a step further and set up automatic bill pay for your mortgage, utility, and other regularly occurring monthly payments. Avoid giving access to bank accounts with large balances or credit cards with high credit limits with another person (other than your spouse).

Protect your legacy – hire a professional, preferably with elder-law experience, to write your will and power of attorney documents. If you like, they can also create a trust that limits access by relatives to your bank accounts and money.

Construct a protective legal framework – powers of attorney grant your designated representative with the power to make decisions when you cannot. Ideally, these decisions will be made with your best interests in mind. In reality, because your representative has legal access to your finances, that may not always be the case.  To protect yourself, consider naming one person as your financial power or attorney and another as your healthcare power of attorney.

Take inventory of valuables – this applies equally to you and your aging loved one. Jewelry and valuables are easily stolen and easily pawned. Inventory and photograph your valuables, then place those documents in a secure location away from your home such as a safe deposit box.

Where To Turn For Help

Many people already have trusted representatives at their bank or credit union to assist them in creating a strategy to protect themselves from financial exploitation. If you do not, contact Senior Helpers at 888-787-8076. Our Care Managers can help you locate the resources you need.

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