Elder Abuse is a growing problem

A young man had been granted an enduring power of attorney over his father’s assets. The father was diagnosed with vascular dementia. Over a short period of time the father’s bank accounts were emptied using the power of attorney with the son stealing more than $300,000.00 – the father’s life savings.

The father is now struggling to pay his nursing home fees and will have to sell his remaining assets to fund his ongoing care.

The Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has been asked to consider existing Commonwealth laws and frameworks which seek to safeguard and protect older persons from misuse or abuse by formal and informal carers, supporters, representatives and others, and to examine the interaction and relationship of these laws with state and territory laws.

Elder abuse usually refers to the mistreatment of an older person that is committed by family, friends and carers. Psychological and financial abuse are common types of elder abuse. It may be physical, social, financial, psychological or sexual and includes name-calling, bullying and harassment.

Financial abuse may include, taking an older person’s money or belongings, forcing them to sell their home or hand over assets, moving into their home without permission, and incurring bills which the older person is left to pay.  Sometimes family, friends and carers may not know that their actions amount to elder abuse.

Key proposals have been made including:

  • An online national register for enduring documents, and tighter witnessing and reporting requirements
  • Expanding the role of public advocates and public guardians in responding to elder abuse
  • Requiring banks to take reasonable steps to prevent financial abuse
  • Allowing tribunals to hear disputes within families about assets-for-care arrangements—providing a low cost and less formal forum for dispute resolution
  • For aged care, strengthening the compulsory reporting scheme by providing for independent oversight of complaints of abuse, enhancing employment screening processes, and the introduction of an official visitors scheme
  • Support for a national plan with strategies to combat elder abuse beyond legal reforms

In a similar situation to Will making few people make enduring powers of attorney. Disputes often arise in situations where parents have not been clear with what is to be done if they become incapacitated and who should make decisions on their behalf.

It has been argued that a national register of powers of attorney would not be an effective preventative measure as it would add another layer of regulation increasing the cost of drafting the document at a time when not enough Australians were making those arrangements in the first place.

It might be more effective to consider tougher criminal sanctions for the perpetrators of financial elder abuse. The conduct of these people is often explained away as a family issue, and not a police or criminal matter. As we have posted before it’s results can be devastating.

The ALRC will accept submissions up until the end of February 2017, with the final reporting date in May 2017.

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