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GUEST POST: Taking Action Against Elder Financial Abuse by John Gower of NerdWallet

John Gower is a writer for NerdWallet.com, a personal finance website dedicated to helping you make smart financial decisions.

Taking Immediate Action against Elder Financial Abuse

Once you know the signs and the perpetrators of elder financial abuse, you will be more likely to recognize it. The next step is to act. Witnessing this form of exploitation can be devastating ─ especially when the abuser is a relative who you and the elder both trust. While you may still be in shock and need time to process the information, it’s vital to take measures to stop it immediately. Following these steps is a good place to start:

Take Financial Control

If an aging loved one is being pressured into giving money to another family member or a caretaker, take control of their accounts. The elder may have a difficult time saying no to the abuser or may not even realize they’re being taken advantage of. For example, let’s say you’ve known your sister has been in debt before. You’ve noticed that she keeps asking your mother for extensive loans, but your mother is afraid to say no because your sister gets very upset. This emotional manipulation has to stop, so it’s time for you to take control. Have your mother give you financial power of attorney to ensure that your sister must consult with you before acting any further.

Contact the Police

This might be one of the most difficult steps, considering that the abuser can often be a family member. The process to report elder financial abuse varies according to different states, but law enforcement usually allows you to report the abuse confidentially. You’ll need to disclose the name of the elder you believe is being abused and their address. You’ll also need to share the name and address of the suspected abuser. Providing a detailed account of the reason you believe the elder is being financially abused is imperative, so be prepared to offer very specific details.

Report Your Concerns to the Elder’s Financial Institution

It will take time to gain control of an elder’s financial matters.  Don’t hesitate to contact the elder’s financial institution with your suspicions of financial elder abuse.  Many organizations have formalized programs to investigate this type of activity.  Additionally, some states mandate investigation and reporting.  The elder’s financial institution will likely not be able to share information with you until you have the legal right to the information, but they may start their own internal investigation into the allegations.

Close Accounts

If the abuser has access or information regarding the elder’s credit cards, debit cards, or other banking information, those bank accounts are not safe. It’s impossible to know what other charges may go through in the future or who else the accounts are being shared with. Go ahead and close those accounts and get new bank accounts and a debit card. This is an effective way to ensure that your loved one’s money is safe.

Request Guardianship or an Independent Conservator

An extremely delicate situation is one in which the abuser has power of attorney over the senior’s finances. With this free reign, the culprit can do much more damage than otherwise. And if the senior has Alzheimer’s, dementia, or is otherwise unable to comprehend what’s going on, you’re going to have to fight this battle on your own. Try talking to the abuser first to gauge the situation—or read between the lines. If you’re convinced that what you suspect is the case, it may be necessary to find an attorney who specializes in elder law and take your case to court to void the current power of attorney over the elder.

Elder financial abuse is an awful reality. It takes people like you who care enough about your loved ones to keep a close watch on their finances and to protect their best interests. Recognizing the signs and the perpetrators and then acting against the abuse are the ways you can fight against this injustice. However, there is one more thing to do: prevent future instances of elder financial abuse.