Financial exploitation destroys the resources of many vulnerable elders. Losses amount to several billion dollars every year in the United States, according to one elder organization. Planning to prevent elder financial abuse is highly effective. The best time to plan is when you reach age 50, but the safeguards can be put in place at any point. If you are approaching or in your senior years and have not put protections in place, you should take the necessary steps soon. If you have a vulnerable elder loved one, you should encourage them to put the essential preventative measures in place.
A federal statute named the Elder Justice Act defines elder financial exploitation as including the fraudulent or otherwise illegal use of an elder’s resources for monetary or personal benefit, resulting in depriving the elder their rightful access or use of their resources. Georgia protection laws for elders similarly define elder financial exploitation.
Elder financial abuse occurs in many ways. The abuser may be a stranger but oftentimes is a family member, caregiver, or close friend of the elder. Most financial exploitation occurs to vulnerable elders living at home, but it also can occur in a facility.
Strangers’ efforts to take property generally involve deception and fraud, such as telephone scams claiming that a relative (often a grandchild) is in trouble or that a government agency like the IRS, FBI, or Social Security Administration is taking adverse action against the elder. Family members, caregivers, and friends may use threats or force, or gain control over the elder’s finances using deceptive means or undue influence. The exploitation sometimes involves forging the elder’s signature or convincing them to sign a legal document (like a power of attorney) through trickery or deceit.
Elder financial exploitation (also referred to as elder financial abuse) is different from elder abuse. Federal and Georgia state statutes both define “elder financial exploitation” as involving monetary gain and “elder abuse” as involving infliction of physical or mental harm through verbal or non-verbal conduct, threats, or neglect. Both types of harm are criminal offenses in Georgia.
Georgia has special laws in place to protect elders from financial and other abuse, whether they are at home or in a facility. If you know or suspect that an elder is being subjected to financial exploitation or abuse, you should contact the police or protective services immediately. The state Office of the Attorney General provides contact information and resources, including a Consumer Protection Guide for Older Adults.
For yourself and your elder loved ones, proper planning is essential to protecting against elder financial abuse. Assistance from a knowledgeable elder law and estate planning attorney is critical to the planning process.
Every thorough estate plan includes a durable power of attorney for financial matters and an advance directive, which designate trusted individuals to make financial, medical, and personal decisions in the event of incapacity. Unfortunately, those documents are not sufficient to protect against financial abuse that occurs when an elder is not incapacitated. Fortunately, there are other measures that can provide the necessary protection.
A trust is a valuable estate planning tool that can accomplish many important goals, one of which is protecting assets and property from elder financial abuse. When you establish a trust, you determine all the terms and conditions for management and administration of the trust. You can maintain full control over your assets, but build in protections that prevent you from being financially exploited by strangers, family members, and others.
Assistance from an experienced attorney is necessary to set up this type of protective trust, for the same reasons that you should never attempt to create a will without an attorney. Your lawyer ensures that all your goals and needs are met by the trust you create, while also making certain that the trust fully protects you from elder financial abuse. The process involves putting safeguards in place to ensure that anyone acting in a fiduciary capacity regarding you and your property is trustworthy, responsible, and acts in your best interests in all circumstances.
Your lawyer also helps you fund the trust after you create it, to make certain that all your assets are included in the protective framework that you create. This step is an important part of establishing a trust, since assets left outside the trust will still be vulnerable to exploitation.
A trust to protect from elder financial abuse can be established at any point in your or your senior loved one’s life. The best time to prevent financial abuse is before any problematic events occur.
In our Cartersville elder law practice at Asset Protection & Elder Law of Georgia, protecting assets through careful estate planning is an essential part of our service for many clients. If you have concerns about protecting your assets and property from financial exploitation, we can answer all your questions and help you make the right decisions.
We provide elder law and estate planning services to clients throughout the communities northwest of Atlanta, including in Bartow County, Cobb County, Cherokee County, Gordon County, Floyd County and Paulding County. Call us at (770) 382-0984 or contact us through our online form.