Steps to Take In Fighting Financial Neglect & Exploitation
Physical and cognitive impairments of aging can rob people of the ability to manage their finances. It can also make them more susceptible to being robbed by others. Many instances of financial neglect and exploitation go unreported because of shame, guilt, fear that the victim may lose independence or concern that the perpetrator (who may be a close friend or family member) will retaliate.
You may notice signs of financial neglect or exploitation such as confusion or fearfulness, unpaid bills, lack of medical care, unnecessary services, goods or subscriptions, missing items or cash, large or frequent withdrawals from bank accounts, or suspicious changes in property titles or legal documents. Stepping in to help can be problematic. Overstepping can cause resentment and distrust, but stepping back could mean financial ruin for the victim. So what steps should you take?
- Stepping Forward Without Stepping on Toes
Assuming that the victim recognizes that there is a problem, there are a number of ways you can help him to help himself.
- Simplify – Reducing the number of transactions can make things much more manageable. Consolidate accounts, set up automatic payments of bills, limit purchases to one credit card.
- Reduce – Get off of junk mail lists, sign up for the do not call registry, clear out and shred extraneous paperwork.
- Organize – Sort and store important legal and financial papers and tax records, itemize and safeguard valuables and collectibles, set up a system to collect and review bills and monthly statements.
- Monitor – Request and review credit reports annually, check references of caregivers and other service providers, work with an accountant, attorney and financial advisor, etc.
- Stepping It Up to Keep A Step Ahead
If your loved one’s impairments are too severe, you may need to step forward to handle things yourself. If you are named agent under a durable financial power of attorney, you are able to handle any matters listed in the document. With the “immediate” POA, either you or the principal can act. If yours is a “springing” POA, you cannot act until a certain event – usually that a doctor has certified that the principal is too ill to handle things himself.
You must present your POA to any bank or other financial institution that you deal with, have it registered or recorded and your signature accepted. Whenever you sign, be sure to write the principal’s name, sign your name and indicate that you are acting as agent under POA.
If property is in a trust, the trustee manages the assets rather than the agent under POA. Co-Trustees can both manage assets. A successor trustee can take over when the initial trustee resigns or becomes incapacitated.
- Stepping In
Since the POA is given by the principal, he can also take it away. And he can continue to handle his own finances as well. If your loved one’s judgement is severely impaired and he is at risk of self-neglect or exploitation, it may be necessary to bring a guardianship action through the Probate Court. This is an adversarial action in which you would need to prove to the court that the principal is incompetent and that you are an appropriate person to manage his affairs. You would need to post a bond insuring your good management and account to the court annually for your transactions. In bringing a guardianship action, you will want to have an attorney with you every step of the way.
To manage social security or VA income, you must apply directly to the agency to become a payee. Keep careful records as annual accounting’s will be required.
- Stepping Aside
If you find that your loved one is in severe danger or needs more help than you are able to give, you should report the neglect or exploitation to your county Adult Protective Services (APS). Anyone can make a confidential report and the APS will investigate and seek to help. Many professionals who work with seniors are “Mandatory Reporters”. Mandatory Reporters are required to report suspected abuse to the APS.
Mandatory Reporters Include:
Psychologists Social Workers
Peace Officers Clergymen
Marriage & Family Therapists
Attorneys Employees of:
Physicians Ambulatory Health Facilities Osteopaths Home Health Agencies
Podiatrists Residential Facilities
Chiropractors Nursing Homes
As of September 29, 2018, more professionals will be added as mandatory reporters. These are marked with a star below:
Firefighters Real Estate Brokers
Ambulance Drivers or Salesmen
Notary Public Financial Planners
Paramedics Investment Advisors
Mental Health Agencies
Banks or Credit Unions
Any person who has reasonable cause to suspect elder abuse, financial or otherwise, may make a confidential report, if the report is made in good faith, the reporter will be immune from criminal or civil liability and protected from employment discrimination or retaliation.
TO REPORT ELDER ABUSE IN OHIO CONTACT YOUR COUNTY DEPARTMENT OF JOB AND FAMILY SERVICES
OR CALL 1-855-OHIO-APS (1-855-644-6277) TOLL-FREE 24/7