The life expectancy among Americans has greatly increased over the past century. The fact that we are living longer is also causing significant changes for seniors.
According to the US Administration on Aging, the number of Americans living past sixty-five has quadrupled. As of 2009, there were 39.6 million Americans over the age of sixty-five. That number is expected to reach 72.1 million by 2030, at which point those who are over the age of 60 will represent 19% of the population (www.aoa.gov).
Any major change in demographics generates several reactions and the increase in our senior population is included in that statement.
One of the most notable impacts is the increase in the number of cases involving elder abuse. A recent national survey of state Adult Protective Services programs suggested there may be as many as a million elder abuse cases a year and approximately 90% of them occur in domestic settings.
Elder abuse is defined as “any knowing, intentional, or negligent act by a caregiver to an elder person that causes personal, financial, or physical harm or serious risk of harm.” Elder abuse can be broken down into six general categories: physical, emotional, sexual, exploitation, neglect, and abandonment.
While all types of elder abuse are on the rise, the fastest growing form of such abuse is the financial exploitation of the elderly. Elder financial exploitation is generally defined as the illegal taking, misuse, or concealment of funds, property, or assets. Older Americans are being targeted for fraud, theft, and deception at higher rates than ever previously documented.
The reasoning behind the increase in elder financial abuse is basic. Older Americans commonly have access to assets of significant value, but a lack of access to resources available for protecting such assets. These two factors, coupled with a decreased physical or mental capacity, make the elderly vulnerable targets for financial exploitation.
Financial abuse is often divided into two categories: personal financial abuse and commercial financial abuse. Personal financial elder abuse generally refers to abuse committed by someone with a personal relation to the victim such as a co-owner on an account. Commercial financial elder abuse is abuse practiced by organized businesses, usually in the form of telemarketing schemes or predatory lending.
There are ways to combat financial abuse. Have the bank, credit union, or brokerage where your friend or parents conduct their banking activity, telephone you immediately with concerns of elder financial abuse. You may be able to make their accounts subject to two signatures. Have your parents sign financial powers of attorney giving you the authority to investigate and refer matters to the police or the state’s attorney.
All of these represent real and current threats to the elderly and should not be ignored. If you would like more information about how estate planning can help prevent elder financial abuse, please contact Abraham & Bauer, LLC.