Financial elder abuse and powers of attorney

Article published 19 August 2020

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THE Australian Human Rights Commission has reported that instances of elder abuse have increased during the COVID-19 pandemic. The combination of isolated older Australians and younger Australians facing of COVID-19 related financial pressures has seen older Australians become the target of financial abuse as relatives of older people experience severe financial stress.

In 2019, the NSW Ageing and Disability Commission received 1,650 reports about abuse, neglect, and exploitation of older people. Psychological and financial abuse were the main categories of abuse and it affected mainly older women.

Powers of Attorney (POAs) documents can help older people protect themselves from abuse. POAs are legal documents which allow an individual to grant authority to someone else to make financial decisions on their behalf when they can no longer make decisions on their own.

However, it is important to remember that a POA by itself will not prevent financial abuse.

Older people with POAs can still be manipulated by a perpetrator attempting to make financial gain. Examples of misusing POAs include attorneys paying bills at the bank on behalf of an older person and withdrawing cash to keep for themselves or asking for a loan and never repaying the money.

Just because there is a POA in place, an older person is not free from manipulation or free from being taking advantage of.

The most common perpetrators of financial elder abuse and misuse of POAs are adult children. Even those who are thought to be trusted the most can sometimes take advantage of a vulnerable parent. So, it is important to seek advice before entering a POA agreement.

The regulation of POAs needs to be improved to better protect people. Currently, every state and territory has different rules for POAs. This makes it difficult to educate people on what their rights are and presents challenges for families living interstate as they may read the POA rules of their state rather than the state their parent lives in.

The Federal Attorney General and Attorneys General from all states and territories met in late July 2020 and agreed in-principle to nationally align POAs. A final proposal is expected by the end of this year.

People living in New South Wales can contact the Seniors Rights Service for free, confidential advice on a range of matters including POAs. You can call them on 1800 424 079.

If you experience, witness, or suspect elder abuse, you can call the National Elder Abuse phone line on 1800 353 374. This number will connect you with the elder abuse service offered in your state or territory.

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