When elder abuse happens in plain sight families still feel powerless to stop it

June 15, 2016

As one Perth family has learned the hard way, even when financial abuse of an elderly person is uncovered it can be very difficult to stop.

720 ABC Perth listener Karen told Geoff Hutchison she recently discovered her mother was depressed and anxious about not being able to pay her bills.

"She told me that she was having trouble paying her levy at the retirement village where she had been living for 15 years.

"I rang the retirement village to pay what I thought was a monthly levy and it transpired that she hadn't paid it for three years and had been given an eviction notice."

Karen said her 43-year-old nephew who does not work had been regularly receiving money from her mother for years.

"She had had her grandson, my nephew, living with her for about 10 years before she went into the retirement village and we, as a family, pushed her to go into this retirement village to break this relationship up," Karen said.

"He had been abusive to her in her previous home. Ignorantly, we thought she was safe in the retirement village."

Mum is 'flat broke'

Karen said her nephew was estranged from the rest of the family and she felt powerless to stop her mother giving him money.

"Mum got an inheritance about 15 years ago which gave her the money to help her go into this retirement place and I think he has gone through about $300,000 of [it]. She's flat broke," she said.

The family has been able to negotiate with the retirement home and local council that the unpaid levies and rates, totalling more than $20,000, will come out of her mother's estate when she dies.

But she said she was powerless to stop her mother continuing to give her money away.

"I'm now the enduring power of attorney for my mother which is so frustrating," she said.

"I can go online daily and check her bank account and see that the money is still coming out.

"Mum is happy to give her grandson her money because he picks her up and takes her for an ice-cream and takes her food shopping.

"He is milking her with her consent. When I try to talk to her she just defends him."

Tackling financial abuse 'complex'

While it may seem extreme, professionals who work in this area said Karen's was a familiar story.

Greg Marney, chief executive of charity Advocare, which runs an elder abuse hotline, said tackling cases like Karen's mother could be complex and required one-on-one counselling.

"There might be ways we can support the grandson so he doesn't have to rely on his grandmother as much, or to show Karen's mum that she doesn't have to support her grandson, that he will be able to survive by himself," Mr Marney said.

"There's a range of things we can do with the older person and try to get to the core issues that are causing the problem."

Andrew Simpson is the wills principal at law firm Maurice Blackburn. He has also seen many similar cases before and said there was often little the legal system could offer.

"Essentially what we would really like to do is get the money back from the grandson and restore her financial position to what it was, but that is very difficult," he said.

"Often someone has taken the money and spent it so there is nothing left to access."

Know the warning signs

He said families needed to be aware of the warning signs of elder abuse so they could prevent it.

Alarms bells should ring if "older people are frequently changing their mind about power of attorney or wills, which may indicate that they are under pressure from somebody", he said.

The loss of jewellery or personal belongings or fear, anxiety or confusion about their assets are other behaviours to watch out for.

"We need to understand that elderly people are vulnerable and they require protection.

"We need to take everything they say seriously and investigate it if need be."

In the meantime, Karen said she would try to get her mother to speak to a counsellor from Advocare but was not optimistic.

"We just sit and watch this happening and there's not a darn thing we can do about it," she said.

 

Read more at http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-06-15/family-feels-powerless-to-stop-financial-abuse-of-grandmother/7513556

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