According to statistics compiled by HealthLinkBC, more than half of the reported cases of elder abuse involves taking money fraudulently or without consent, through financial scams or otherwise.
The good news is that the B.C. Notaries Association is sharing helpful information to prevent that from happening in recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15.
“Elder abuse can happen at the hands of strangers, acquaintances, caregivers and, most sadly, even family members,” Daniel Boisvert, president of BC Notaries Association said in a media release. “Families and professionals on the front lines, such as first responders, healthcare providers, and bank and credit union employees need to know what signs of abuse to watch for in order to intervene appropriately.”
Key indicators of financial abuse include a sudden decrease in bank balance, investments or other savings, or a notable change in financial decisionmaking or lifestyle, or withdrawal from social interactions due to stress, fear or shame.
Some notable signs include pressuring a senior to loan or gift money or other valuable items, selling a senior’s property or belongings to use the money for themselves, and tricking or pressuring an elderly person into signing a contract or changing their will.
Notaries can help seniors safeguard their assets by legally documenting their wishes so they are less likely to be victimized by a scammer or abusive family member. Morrie Baillie, a notary in Victoria, said there are occasions when senior clients say they feel pressured to change their will, which underlines the importance of notaries speaking on their won to their clients in confidence.
An up to date legal will enables seniors to independently decide how the proceeds of their estate will be divided. Notaries are duty-bound to ensure any changes to a will are done with the senior’s permission, and that they are fully informed of the consequences when making decisions of that nature.
A person trusted with power of attorney – designation to manage finances and legal affairs – should be well-known and trustworthy and accountable to the older adult. They must involve that person in decisionmaking as well if the person is capable and competent. This, unfortunately, does not occur in cases of financial abuse. A notary can help clarify the attorney’s roles and responsibilities, and this should be done while the signatory is independent and of sound mind.
In those cases where a senior may have diminished capacity and cannot make a power of attorney, they may still be able to arrange a special representation agreement. This provides a designated individual with decision-making authority that typically includes minor and major health care, personal care and living arrangements. It can also include legal affairs and routine management of finances. Notaries are able to provide advice regarding the best approach to an individual’s needs to create an appropriate agreement.
If you have concerns about an elderly person living alone or at risk and believe they may be a victim of financial abuse, report it to the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee at 604-660-4444, or check out trusteebc.ca for more information.