Relationships, between children and parents, spouses, friends or colleagues, are largely built on trust. Abuse of this trust can lead to relationship breakdowns, miscommunication and resentment. When abuse of trust goes too far, it can have lasting negative consequences on individual and family groups. One of the most despicable abuses of trust is that of financial abuse. This is the misappropriation of money or assets that belong to someone who lacks the capacity to make their own financial decisions. This usually affects elderly or infirm people under the care of family or others with power of attorney.
Examples of financial abuse
Financial abuse comes about from having a person in control of another person’s finances and assets. Whilst it does not always happen, sometimes having extra cash to play with and ultimate power over an individual can be too much of a temptation. Loss of money and property can range from removing cash from wallets, cashing cheques without permission, to stealing and also selling jewellery, silverware and art.
Forced amendments to a wills are a common exploitation perpetrated by financial abusers. The exploiter will often try to personally inject themselves into critical parts of the will. They will also amend the will to make certain wishes obsolete, further cementing their grip on power of attorney. If an elderly person seemingly lacks decision-making capability, power of attorney can be easily obtained and used to alter essential documents.
People at risk of financial abuse can also be denied access to their own personal funds. A typical red flag is if possession of bank accounts are taken away from an elder while are still fit and capable of maintaining their own independence.
See the signs
Identifying and acknowledging that someone is at risk of financial abuse is the best way to prevent it from continuing. It can come in many forms as detailed above. Addressing the signs in the early stages is vital. Make it clear that the practice of financial abuse is predatory, unwanted and above all else, illegal.
The easiest way to spot financial abuse is identifying financial loss. This can come in the form of disappearing cash from wallets, missing valuables from the home, unrecoverable financial materials (cheque books, statements and credit cards), and sudden and inexplicable transfer out of one’s account.
Secondly, control is an equally telling identifier. If an otherwise competent individual loses control of their finances and assets, there is most likely financial abuse at play. Loss of control comes in the for of being denied access to funds, reluctance to sign or alter a will and the sudden inability to pay for bills, rent and groceries.
Remedies to the abuse
Although financial abuse is despicable and predatory, there is legal recourse to assist those who have fallen victim to it. There are a number of organisations that can help you find a remedy to abuse including:
- 1800 RESPECT – free counselling for domestic abuse and family violence
- Family Relationships Advice Line – Information for dealing with family relationships
- Lifeline – Crisis support and counselling
- Relationships Australia – Advice for dealing with family matters
- Alzheimer’s Australia – Support for families with elders suffering from Alzheimer’s
- Elder Abuse Prevention Unit (QLD)
- Queensland Aged and Disability Advocacy
In conclusion, as always, the best way to help a situation is to talk to a lawyer, especially one that specialises in these matters. If you know someone who is suffering from financial abuse, contact the relevant authority as soon as you are able. Educate your children on the consequences of abusing trust. By educating, informing and remaining vigilant, we can protect the people most at risk of financial exploitation.
– Rory Callaghan