According to the assistant secretary for aging at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, an estimated four out of every ten elders are financially exploited. The National Center for Elder Abuse has provided 10 signs that may indicate financial exploitation as follows:

• Sudden change in bank account or bank practice, including an unexplained withdrawal of large sums of money by a person accompanying the elder;

• Names added to an elder’s bank signature card;

• Unauthorized withdrawal of the elder’s funds using the elder’s ATM card;

• Abrupt changes in a will or other financial documents;

• Unexplained disappearance of funds or valuable possessions;

• Substandard care being provided or bills unpaid despite the availability of adequate financial resources;

• Discovery of an elder person’s signature forged for financial transactions or for the titles of his/her possessions;

• Sudden appearance of previously uninvolved relatives claiming their rights to an elder’s affairs and possession;

• Unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family;

• Provision of services that are not necessary.*

(*As cited in Investment Advisor “10 Signs of Financial Exploitation.”)

What can you do to try to prevent financial exploitation? Having a good estate plan that includes a financial power of attorney can help. In the power of attorney, you choose the person you trust to act on your behalf. Notifying this person that he/she is your agent will put them on notice if someone is suddenly acting on your behalf financially.

The person who executes a financial power of attorney is the principal. The person you list to act on your behalf is your “agent.” If the agent acts only upon the principal’s incapacity, the document should state what “incapacity” means. For example, it may require two doctors stating you no longer have capacity to manage your affairs.

But, an individual cannot execute documents when he/she has lost capacity. Sometimes an individual trying to take advantage will fill out a financial power of attorney form and have the form executed by the principal who does not have capacity. What can be done when a person seems to have authority under a power of attorney but is taking advantage?

A medical agent, the principal’s spouse, parent, descendent, or person who demonstrates sufficient interest in the principal’s welfare, are some of the individuals who can petition a court to review the agent’s conduct and grant appropriate relief.

But what if the individual does not have any powers of attorney? If the person has lost capacity, a conservatorship and guardianship is necessary to give someone authority to act. If there are changes such as those listed in the 10 signs above, a conservatorship and guardianship may be necessary to protect the individual’s assets with court supervision. 

Find out ways to protect yourself against exploitation and learn how you can intervene on an at-risk person’s behalf at “Who Can You Trust? Avoiding Elder Exploitation,” a free educational workshop that will be presented by The Law Office of Brown & Brown, P.C. in Montrose June 12 and in Delta on Monday, June 19, both from 4:30 – 5:30 p.m. Please see call 243-8250 to register.

Shauna C. Clemmer is an attorney with Brown & Brown, PC.

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