Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada.
Financial abuse often starts after a health crisis or after the death of a spouse. A lonely senior in poor health can be vulnerable.
Such abuse usually goes unreported — either due to the victim’s shame and embarrassment or because the older person has dementia and doesn’t even realize what is happening.
The abuser is usually someone who has a close connection to the victim. A family member or caregiver can take advantage and pressure an elderly person to do what they want.
For example, the abuser could bully or trick the senior into changing his/her will or signing over title to his/her home. The abuser could ask the senior to care for grandchildren for little or no money. The abuser could make frequent requests for loans and never repay them.
Laura Watts, a Toronto lawyer who focuses on elder law issues, says the “unsuccessful son in the basement” accounts for about 75 per cent of elder financial abuse cases perpetrated by family members.
How can a senior be protected against financial abuse?
Stay in contact with friends and family. Join a social or volunteer group. Encourage friends to regularly check to make sure that you’re okay. Don’t become isolated by someone who restricts access to you.
Store ID safely
Guard against identity theft. Keep usernames, PINs and passwords in a safe place. Prevent fraudulent access to your financial accounts.
Review transaction statements for mysterious withdrawals from your bank account or credit card charges that you did not make.
Have your pension payments, RRIF withdrawals and tax refunds deposited directly into your bank account. Then, arrange to pay insurance premiums, utility bills and quarterly income tax instalments by automatic debits from your bank account.
No joint accounts
If you have no spouse, do not register your bank account in joint names with anyone else if you need some help in paying your bills. A joint account makes you vulnerable because the co-owner could withdraw all of your money without consulting you.
Power of attorney
When you have your lawyer draw up your power of attorney (POA), appoint someone who does not need money. Consider choosing two people and requiring both signatures for every transaction so they keep each other honest.
Ask someone you trust, such as your accountant or financial advisor, to regularly monitor what is happening to your finances. Require the person acting as your POA representative to provide regular reports to your monitor.
If you or your professional advisor suspects financial abuse, call the public trustee, a provincial government official whose job is to protect vulnerable adults’ property and can investigate allegations of financial abuse.
Since privacy laws prevent information sharing, ensure that your professional advisor has your written authorization to confidentially report suspected financial abuse.
Rather than have a registered retirement income fund (RRIF) that allows unlimited withdrawals, you can convert your RRIF to a life annuity, which pays you a guaranteed amount each month for the rest of your life. It is like a pension plan. Extra withdrawals are not possible.
Get legal advice
Before signing documents involving the title to your home, get your own independent legal advice. Ask your lawyer to read the fine print of any contract you are asked to sign.
From the Saskatoon Star Phoenix, August 12, 2017
Submitted by CARP Georgian Bay Chapter 14