June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month

by David Goldfarb

As many as five million cases of elder abuse are reported to the authorities each year. Unfortunately, most cases of elder abuse probably go unreported. Because June is Elder Abuse Awareness Month, we here at Goldfarb Abrandt Salzman and Kutzin, LLP, would like to take this opportunity to call attention to this important topic.

The Financial Abuse of Elders

Elder abuse can take on many forms and isnt limited solely to physical violence, psychological abuse, neglect, confinement, restraint, or sexual abuse.

Elders also suffer from financial abuse. This can happen when someone

  • Gains improper control over an elders finances
  • Cashes a senior citizen’s checks
  • Coerces a senior into signing legal documents to the detriment of the senior

You might feel tempted to think that elder abuse only takes place in institutions such as nursing facilities, but elder abuse in the home is prevalent. And sadly, the abuse—including financial abuse—often comes at the hands of a family member such as a spouse or adult child. Some abusers simply prey upon the vulnerable, while other abusers may simply feel overwhelmed by the responsibilities of taking care of someone who needs so much help. In some instances, drug or alcohol abuse can also play a role.

Look for Signs

Many elders are ashamed or afraid to report abuse. In cases of financial abuse, some are unaware that its even happening. Dont assume that your elder loved ones are fine just because they havent told you they are having problems. Visit them frequently, and become familiar with what goes on in their daily lives. Ask questions and keep tabs on their affairsit may feel like youre prying, but its necessary to keep them safe.

The following are common signs of elder abuse:

  • Changes in personality or behavior
  • Aversion or tension toward a caregiver
  • Bruises, burns, abrasions, or other physical trauma
  • A dirty or unkempt person or room
  • Lack of knowledge about financial affairs
  • Unexplained weight loss
Financial abuse is one of the most prevalent forms of elder abuse, but is the most difficult to spot. Watch out for sudden changes in how someone handles financial affairs, such as changes to a signature card, modifications to a will, sudden financial problems, or a new special friend providing financial advice. Large, unexplained withdrawals or liquidation of assets are other red flags.

If you see something that causes concern, report it so the authorities can investigate and stop it. In New York City, you can start by contacting the Department for the Aging (DFTA) by calling 311.

Contact a New York Elder Law Attorney Today

We all have a duty to take care of our elders and ensure that they are receiving the care and comfort they deserve. Unfortunately, bad things sometimes happen to good people.

Proper estate planning—wills, trusts, powers of attorney, and health care proxies—can help prevent elder financial abuse. If an elderly person loses the ability to make sound decisions and disputes arise as to a person’s wishes, these legal tools can lay out what decisions that person wanted to make, and who should carry them out. By committing to writing a person’s wishes, these legal tools can also offer protections against abuse by outlining when and under what circumatances particular loved ones can intervene.

The attorneys at Goldfarb Abrandt Salzman and Kutzin, LLP can help you with estate planning matters. Call us at (212) 387-8400 or send us an email to speak with one of our experienced senior law care attorneys.