Financial abuse is also referred to financial exploitation and material exploitation. Financial abuse is defined as improperly or illegally using another individual’s funds, assets, or property. Nursing home patients may be in unique position to be victims of financial abuse, as they may be more vulnerable to deceptive practices taking place. In many cases, residents may not be aware of financial abuse involving their finances or assets. If family members or other close individuals suspect any abuse, it should be investigated as soon as possible.
Financial Abuse Examples
Examples of financial abuse may include, but are not limited to, the following:
- Cashing a resident’s checks without permission or authorization
- Forging a resident’s signature
- Financial Exploitation of Seniors
- Stealing or misusing a resident’s money or possessions
- Deceiving or coercing a resident to sign documents, such as a contract or will
- Improper use of guardianship, conservatorship, or power of attorney
Financial Abuse in Nursing Homes
Though the issue may not receive significant media or community attention, elderly financial abuse is a serious and widespread issue. The MetLife Mature Market Institute and National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse conducted a 2009 study on elder financial abuse prevention. The study estimated that elderly financial abuse may cost victims roughly $2.6 billion each year. The study suggests that advances in technology, social changes, and increased aging of the population will cause a significant increase in elderly financial abuse.
Who Commits Financial Abuse?
Financial abuse can be committed by virtually any individual who has contact with or control over a nursing home resident. In most cases, financial abuse occurs mostly at the hands of those who have close relationships with the elderly, as opposed to strangers. Financial abuse can often occur at the hand of service and business professionals, such as facility caregivers. Family members, colleagues, affiliates, or close friends of the resident may also commit financial abuse. This can be seen when an individual commits financial abuse after being granted power of attorney to control finances or resources of the nursing home resident.
Power of Attorney Abuse
A power of attorney, also called letter of attorney, is an authorization in writing to act on another individual’s behalf in the event that the individual is incapable or unwilling. Power of attorney abuse may occur if the authorized individual acts deceptively or untrustingly. Residents and families should ensure that individuals who hold power of attorney are trustworthy and capable of honestly and responsibly handling the resident’s finances.
Signs of Financial Abuse
Financial abuse may occur with distinct warning signs, or without any warning signs at all. Families, friends, and caregivers should be alert and aware of any suspicious changes that may indicate financial abuse. Sudden and unexplained checks, withdrawals, and disappearance of personal items are among the most telltale financial abuse warning signs.
The following instances may indicate signs of elder financial abuse:
- Unexplained transfer of money or assets to another individual
- Abrupt changes in the elder’s will or related financial documents
- The resident’s living conditions are below his or her resources
- Frequent checks are written to a particular financial professional or caregiver
- Sudden changes in banking or funds, such as unexpected withdrawals by another individual
- Personal belongings are missing from the resident’s possession
- The resident becomes reluctant to talk about financial issues that were once routine
- Additional names on the elder’s bank signature card
- The elder’s signature being forged for titles of possessions or financial transactions
Preventing Financial Abuse
Those who are close to nursing home residents and other elderly individuals can take steps to prevent nursing home abuse. Family members and friends should educate themselves on the warning signs of financial abuse in order to expedite action when suspicions arise. When possible, involving several individuals in major financial decisions can be a good system of “checks and balances” to ensure that one individual does not attempt to take advantage.
Other methods for preventing elderly financial abuse may include:
- Checking reviews of nursing facilities, and references before hiring anyone to administer care
- Use automatic bill paying systems and direct depositing for checks
- Communicate with banks and financial institutions to look for suspicious activity
- Consider a geriatric care manager to oversee complete care, including finances
- Reduce isolation and be weary of caregivers who attempt to excessively isolate a resident
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Gibson, Sheri, C., and Sara, Honn Qualls. “A Family Systems Perspective of Elder Financial Abuse.” Generations 36.3 (2012): 26-29. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.
Gilhooly, Mary L.M., et al. “Framing the Detection of Financial Elder Abuse as Bystander Intervention: Decision Cues, Pathways to Detection and Barriers to Action.” The Journal of Adult Protection 15.2 (2013): 54-68. ProQuest. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.
Kemp, BJ, and LA Mosqueda. “Elder Financial Abuse: An Evaluation Framework and Supporting Evidence.” Journal of the American Geriatrics Society 53.7 (2005): 1123-1127. CINAHL Plus with Full Text. Web. 1 Mar. 2014.