What is Fiduciary Abuse?
This is a situation by which an individual who is legally responsible for managing another person’s assets uses his or her power to benefit financially in an unethical or illegal manner. Fiduciary abuse can be done by anyone such as a financial advisor, power of attorney, or family member.
A Growing Problem
Many times the elderly have a difficult time managing their money, and so they are dependent on others for help. This is when that unscrupulous individuals step in and make attempts to obtain monies from property, land, goods and bank accounts.
Who could provide financial abuse of your loved ones?
To determine if your loved one is being abused financially, we must first clarify who could potentially lead to abuse.
A surprisingly large number of cases of financial abuse occur between an older person and their caretaker. This can include guardian or family members who start out doing the right thing, but are in a strong position only to commit financial abuse because of the temptation. One way this happens is by gaining the confidence of the victim slowly the guardian of the person begins to take control of the victim’s possessions. Another way is through the use coercion. This is when an individual is forced to sign over land, property or access to bank accounts because of threat or feeling intimidated. Guardians can also manipulate the “authority” and the layout of the will.
Another way this occurs is when a loved one is being cared for by a family member who takes advantage of the situation. This can happen several ways. One, the elder person is placed in a long-term care facility and the family member continues to take the SSI check and spend it for their own bills. The SSI money is supposed to be spent of the care of the elder person not on the caretaker’s bills. Secondly, the caretaker charges the elder for their care and is also being paid by in-home support services. This also falls under fraud and should be reported to Medi-cal/Medicaid.
Long Term Care Facilities
Many people are concerned about the quality of care for their relatives in nursing homes. They often forget to keep a watchful eye on the monetary portion of their loved ones care. The family must always make sure the charges for the level of care are correct. If the products and services account shows what you believe has not been provided then it is important for the family to discuss this with the Business Office Manager first then with the Administrator.
Deceivers come in many shapes and sizes and from all over the world. The elderly have a higher probability of being scammed because of the constant evolution of technology and the potential diminished mental capacity. Phone scams often target older people who the scammers think they can manipulate and at times scare them.
One indicator may be an increased number of checks being used or excessive amounts of money being sent to an unknown person or entity. Always follow-up with your loved ones in these financial decisions and keep a watchful eye on their finances when possible.
What can be done?
If there is suspected financial abuse there are several things that can be done to stop it, protect your loved one and to prevent it from happening to others.
First, report it. It must be reported to the local authorities. Many of the law enforcement agencies these days have special units dedicated to fiduciary abuse. If they don’t have such a unit, still request an officer to come out and take a report. You will need the report number when contacting the bank. Also, report it to APS (Adult Protective Services).
Second, assist the victim in contacting the bank. The bank will guide you through the process. Often the account is frozen or closed and moved to a new account. This will also help the victim recover some of the monies in some cases.
If the elder person is in a long-term care facility, report the situation to the Ombudsman, State Licensing and APS. Also, make sure the facility is aware. They must conduct their own investigation and follow-up. Often times the facility is the first to become aware of the situation and will take the initiative in starting the investigation and reporting it to the agencies.
One main thing to remember is to document everything you can. The documentation of all the agencies that have been contacted with the person’s name you spoke to, the date and time are extremely crucial. It may help prevent the investigation from falling through the cracks.
The elderly population is growing and so is fiduciary abuse. Our elders require honest and empathetic people who are willing to be advocates for them and assist in their protection.