According to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, elder financial abuse is defined as “the illegal or improper use of an older person’s funds, property or resources.”
The forms elder financial abuse can take are varied, from taking money or property, forging signatures, coercing or decieving an elder into signing a deed, will, or power of attorney, or convincing a senior to give money or property through deception or coersion.
Some other forms of elder financial abuse involve seniors being caught up in scams or con games designed to trick them out of their money.
Hebert said it is estimated that between one and five million cases of elder abuse occur every year, mostly unreported, and that approximately 30 percent of reported cases are financial abuse.
Hebert said that since banks are in a crucial position to recognize elder financial abuse, part of his job is to train bank employees to recognize “red flags”, or possible indicators of elder financial abuse, including radical changes in account behavior, changes in power of attorney, and high ATM usage.
Hebert said that under Louisiana Revised Statutes, everyone has a legal obligation to report suspected elder financial abuse.
R.S. 15:1504 states: “Any person, including but not limited to a health, mental health, and social service practitioner, haivng cause to believe an adult’s physical or mental health or welfare has been or may be further adversely affected by abuse, neglect, or exploitation shall report.”
“If you have knowledge of possible financial abuse of an elderly person, you have an obligation to report it,” Hebert said.
Hebert said suspected elder financial abuse should be reported to the Louisiana Governor’s Office of Elderly Affairs or to local law enforcement.
Hebert said state law gives immunity to good-faith reporters of suspected elder financial abuse.
One of the main perpetrators of elder financial abuse is a family member, Hebert said, which adds to the difficulty in reporting.
Individuals may try to put an end to the elder financial abuse intra-family, Hebert said, but “ultimately, a family has a legal duty to report elder financial abuse as does anyone else.”
Attorney and Kiwanian Clint Bischoff said that families need to be proactive when protecting their parents’ finances.
“When parents reach about 70-plus years of age, the children need to get together to come up with tools to manage their finances,” Bischoff said.
Hebert noted the law protects minors from financial abuse by recognizing they are not mature enough to sign contracts and enter into financial agreements, but said any law which tried to provide the same protection to seniors would conflict with their own rights and free will.
Hebert said it’s not as cut-and-dried when trying to decide if a senior still has full capacity to make financial decisions.
“It’s difficult to take the checkbook away; it’s difficult to take the car keys away; it’s difficult to take capacity away from our parents and grandparents, but in some of these instances, what else are we going to do?” Hebert said.