Thwarting Elder Abuse: Who Should You Call When You Suspect It?
Imagine this:  it happens. Abuse seems to be going on right in front of you with an aging client. A family friend is manipulating her, and you’re pretty sure about that.  What would be the first thing you could do?
Perhaps you’ve taken a class or training in senior specific issues like dementia. (You’ll be especially knowledgeable if you’ve gotten training with our Aging Investor.com webinars!) You’re determined to stop it if you can.
 
You may think of calling Adult Protective Services, but you also know that APS is limited, and addresses situations that are criminal in nature.  Sometimes when an elder seems to be going along with the abuse, APS may have its hands tied.  For example when a friend close to the elder is pressuring an elder into giving him large amounts of cash and draining the elder’s bank account, the elder may not show concern. The aging person could be subject to undue influence or perhaps intimidated and afraid to say “no”.  When the victim seems willing, you have to look beyond APS to try to thwart the abuser.
One thing every professional needs to have in every file is a list of contacts your client has provided to you, as you have requested, to use when something seems amiss or when your client shows signs of memory problems.  You need specific written permission from your client to communicate with the people on the list. The list should include trusted family members, the client’s estate planning attorney, a long term friend, clergy or trusted other professional such as the client’s accountant.  
When you have the client’s permission to contact these individuals, you can start asking questions about the suspected abuser.  If the abuser is someone on the list, ask everyone else their impressions. People do change and financial desperation or greed can cause someone to misuse the trust the elder has in them.
Thinking it’s really none of your business that your client has a person who is taking advantage of her is not the answer to our massive problem of elder abuse in our country. We all must do something when we can.  We have to speak up, get nosy, ask questions and take an active role.  In asking the client’s list of contacts about the issue, you may learn a lot. Perhaps the “friend” has a gambling or drug problem. Perhaps your client just lost a spouse and is very vulnerable. Others on the contact list who may not see what you see can get involved in looking into the situation after becoming aware of your suspicions.  Working together, a group can present a united front and create a strategy to stop the thefts and manipulation.
A very helpful resource for any professional is to search for and know competent elder abuse lawyers who have the skills, knowledge and will to step in and try whatever is possible to protect the aging person or her heirs. You can find one by searching your local county Bar Association website.  Most have a directory or lawyer referral service. Lawyers are listed by specialty area. For example, in San Francisco, the Bar Association has a listing for the category of elder abuse.  Under it there is a sublisting “Financial Abuse by Family or Friends”.  That category will likely lead to someone who can help evaluate a case. 
When the abuser has talked the elder into changing her will and disinheriting her children in favor of the so-called friend, that gives the elder abuse lawyer something to work with.  Elder abuse litigators will generally listen to a possible case and give you an opinion about whether it is a matter they can handle. And aggressive proactive steps can be taken to thwart an abuser determined to clean out the assets of a supposedly willing victim.
If the abuser is a bad apple within the financial services industry, there are specialty lawyers who prosecute claims handled in FINRA arbitrations. They can be found through the Public Investors Arbitration Bar Association.
Not every senior who is being abused financially is able to see it. But those who have a role in the elder’s life can do much to at least try to stop the abuse.  Loss of financial judgment is a reality that can occur as people age. If we don’t want to see more destitute seniors who were victimized, think of how you can help. Ask questions, call contacts and refer to an elder abuse attorney if you see this problem.
If you are not sure about what the red flags of diminished capacity look like or what to do when you spot them, take a one-hour webinar, Best Practices With Aging Clients any time at AgingInvestor.com. You’ll gain confidence so you’ll always know what to do with your aging clients.
Until next time,
Carolyn Rosenblatt, RN, Attorney, Mediator
Dr. Mikol Davis, Psychologist, Gerontologist
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