Financial Elder Abuse and Bullying

As an estate lawyer, I see a lot of really strange things. I see children arguing in front of the their parents (still living) about who deserves what out of the estate. I see other children struggling with how to protect their aged parents from being preyed on by fraudsters and worse. Sometimes people outside the family, such as neighbours, realtors or accountants, alert me to what they perceive as elderly individuals being bullied by their family members, and they don’t know what to do.
Maybe it’s just me, but I feel like we are seeing more of this kind of behaviour. If you think an elderly person you know is being defrauded or bullied financially, what can you do? Obviously the fraudster is not going to thank you for trying to stop them, nor will the family members be happy to hear from you if they are doing the abusing. And you don’t necessarily want to get in the middle of a family dispute if it’s not your family.
If you suspect an elderly friend is being abused (whether financially or otherwise) your first recourse is to talk to the elderly person about it, if possible. If that is not an option, let a family member know of your concerns. Again, that may not be an option (especially if it’s the family that you are worried about), and at that point you may need to get others involved.
One resource you can use is the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy Support.  Other provinces have similar resources. The RCMP has a web site dealing with the topic,  which is an excellent overview of the indicators, the factors, and other information on elder abuse.
The Public Guardian’s office in British Columbia may also get involved, but that really should only be a last resort, as their mandate is an all-or-nothing one. Once in their system the person loses all control over his or her finances. The Public Guardian is only able to step in if the elderly person has been deemed incapable of managing his or her own affairs. Many times people are not incapable, just very vulnerable.
You can also talk to a lawyer or other professional, though because of privacy concerns, you will need the elderly person’s consent in order to help them. And if you do choose to get involved even though you have no personal stake in the outcome, bless you. You are doing a good thing.

About Maria Holman

I am a lawyer with over 28 years of experience in drawing up wills, trusts and estate plans, helping clients with probate and estate administrations and advising business owners and families about planning for the future. You can find me at Webster Hudson & Coombe LLP in Vancouver, BC
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