Welcome back! This week, we’re talking about a very difficult topic: financial abuse of elders.
John and Devin received an email from a listener, with a disturbing situation. The listener’s father is widowed, and has met a new woman in his life. However, the kids have some concerns about the new friend, and a little research has shown some frightening information about this person. The kids are wonder what they can do?
In this episode, John describes the very specific routine of how people commit elder abuse. John and his partner see this over and over. There is a distinct pattern of how the abuser gets into a position to commit the abuse. If you know the steps, you can see the signs of it.
First is the introduction and trust building stage. The person will step in, they’ll make friends, and develop a sense of trust. In this stage, the potential abuser is giving – care, support, and friendship. The abuser is doing the work – this is establishing this trust.
Step two typically involves what John calls “poor mouthing.” They talk about how the relationship has had a financial impact on the abuser, but that they’re glad to do it. There’s usually a specific instance, such as not being able to pay for the kid’s college books. This sets up the victim to feel like a knight in shining armor or a protector. The victim offers to help, and the potential abuser refuses to take the money. This seals the trust.
Then, they’ll pull the victim more to themselves. It often involves subtle hits to the traditional support system, creating more and more isolation. This is always presented in a positive fashion – a new church, not wanting to upset the kids, etc.
Once they have enough isolation, then they’ll start accepting the gifts. It’s slow, and it’s incremental. At the same time, they’ll be solidifying the victim’s dependence on the abuser. They’ll tell the victim that they would be alone, or in a nursing home, or some other negative outcome.
At this point, the abuser can do whatever they want. Now that we’ve established all these other things, the real abuser comes out. They will threaten the victim, and force them to make financial changes. The victim has been whittled down, they’ve been isolated from their support network, and they’re scared.
What can a family do? Unfortunately, not much.
If the victim is mentally competent, then they are free to subject themselves to abuse. It may be a crime, once it reaches a certain level, but it’s not a crime that will be prosecuted. The victims are such poor witnesses that it’s almost impossible to win a case.
You can’t get legal guardianship over someone who is legally competent. And in most cases, the victim is not incompetent. They may be fragile, but they’re not incompetent. And if you try to gain guardianship, the process just solidifies the relationship between the abuser and the victim, because now it becomes us against them.
Now, there are a few things that the family can do. You can find a reason to take away either the access to the money or the control of the money. You never talk about protecting the person from themselves. You can find another reason to protect assets, such as eligibility for other benefits. John uses the examples of the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Aid and Attendance benefit, or to shield the assets from a Medicare situation. Once that’s in place, then you can limit the amount of financial exploitation.
If you have a parent who has met a new friend, be sure you recognize the signs of financial exploitation. You may not be able to prevent it from occurring, but you may be able to slow it down or mitigate some of the damage.
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