Financial abuse of older people takes many forms
THIRTY per cent of calls regarding the abuse of older people made to the NSW Disability Abuse Helpline during the 2019-20 financial year reported elder financial abuse.
The financial abuse was mainly financial exploitation, theft, and the misuse of power of attorney according to the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission (ADC) which maintains the operation of the Helpline.
In September 2020, the Law Council of Australia released Best Practice Guide for Legal Practitioners in Relation to Elder Financial Abuse. This guide is intended to assist legal practitioners in identifying potential issues regarding elder financial abuse that may occur during the preparation of documents such as wills, power of attorney and advance care planning.
Although the guide is intended for legal professionals, it presents some interesting issues that everyone can be on the lookout for.
The guide says that legal practitioners should watch for interpreters or support persons with an interest in the legal transaction. A person who has an interest in the matter should not be involved in translating or supporting someone engaging a legal practitioner.
Legal practitioners should make sure that an older person is engaging in the legal transaction on their own volition, looking for possible coercion in writing a will for example.
Regular changes to a will or power of attorney, changing legal practitioners, or someone disposing of almost all their assets with little thought or consideration may all be signs of financial elder abuse.
It is reassuring to see the legal sector proactively approaching the identification of financial elder abuse in Australia. However, the federal government should do more to protect the rights of older Australians.
The President of the Law Council of Australia recently said that the federal government should support a Convention on the Rights of Older Persons. Such a convention would mean the rights of older people would be recognised internationally and would inform Australian domestic policy to protect the rights of older people.
If COVID-19 has shown us anything it is that society can be careless when it comes to the protection of older, vulnerable people. Everything that can be done to protect them should be done.