When your a trusted advisor, you need to be aware of elder abuse and understand the signs. There is often a point in a client’s life where they will experience diminished capacity. This may arise due to an illness or simply a natural consequence of advanced aging. Unfortunately, clients are vulnerable in those moments of diminished capacity. That is why trusted advisor’s who take their stewardship seriously make sure there clients have powers of attorney in place.
Elder abuse can take different forms. After reviewing the psychological literature, here are some of the most common types. First is physical abuse. The signs are obviously injuries or bruising. However, it is often difficult to detect because as we age, we injure and bruise more easily from common accidents such as falling or bumping into an object.
A second and more common type is psychological abuse. It looks like intimidation, threats, hurrasement, belittlement, or isolation. One of the tell tale signs we see in our estate and trusts litigation practice is the isolation of the senior. The pathology is to have the senior completely reliant on one caregiver and then that caregiver asks for favors. You can spot this form of abuse when a caregiver pushes back too strongly on a senior.
Neglect is also a form of abuse. Depriving a person of their basic needs including food, medicine or personal hygiene. When social services goes to evaluate a senior’s home they are evaluating the condition of the home. Is it tidy? Is the senior clean?
The fourth type of abuse, and the one financial planners and accountants are in the best position to identify, is financial abuse. Unfortunately, seventy percent of abuse is someone the elderly person knows such as a family member or professional.
What can trusted advisors do to help combat these forms of abuse? First, every adult should have power of attorney for health and finances in place. Second, those documents need to be prepared with keeping in mind certain checks and balances as well as oversight. By adopting these tools, you can have different people involved to oversee finances. The key is transparency.
Once abuse is suspected, there are a few avenues that can be taken. For suspected financial abuse, especially of a family member, an interested person can file a petition for an accounting of actions taken pursuant to a power of attorney. See 755 ILCS 45/2-10. Another option, assuming the senior has lost capacity to manage their assets, is an interested person can petition for guardianship to take control over the person and their finances.
Where more immediate action is needed or where resources are scarce, one can petition for an order of protection. The Illinois Department of Aging also has a hotline to report elder abuse, and that number is (866) 800-1406.
Each course of action has its benefits and setbacks. Speak with an attorney experienced in elder law matters that also litigates disputes to ascertain your best course of action.