If financial abuse was happening in front of you, would you be able to recognise it? Would you do something about it?
A woman and her elderly mother walked into a lawyers office, and something about the whole situation did not sit right with the lawyer, Marie Fedorov.
The reason for the visit? They wanted to change the elderly woman’s will.
The peculiar things that Fedorov noticed was that the daughter did all the talking, explaining that her mother wanted her to be the sole beneficiary of her will.
Fedorov “smelled a rat”.
“When I questioned the elderly lady to confirm that this was what she wanted, she appeared to not understand what she was at my office for. When I explained this to her she appeared very confused,” Fedorov told News.com.au.
“The daughter then said to her mother: ‘Remember mum, we’re here to change your will to leave everything to me.’
The mother then responded, ‘oh yes, I’m happy to do what my daughter wants me to do, so just tell me where to sign.’”
Though the elderly mother seemed to be co-operative, it was evident to Fedorov that there were issues with her cognitive abilities – and that her daughter was taking advantage of that.
“I recall seeing the daughter become very uncomfortable and she said: ‘Mum only has mild dementia, she is fine.’ But after I obtained the woman’s medical details from her doctor, and realised she was not able to make legal decisions, I refused to prepare the requested legal documents,” Fedorov said.
Financial abuse isn’t only seen in a greedy offspring with a bad case of “inheritance expectation”, sometimes it’s a complete stranger who has no connection to the elderly person.
Fedorov recalls another incident where a real estate agent and an elderly woman came to her office, the real estate agent claimed the woman wanted to change her will and leave a large portion of her estate to him.
“Our meeting was at the woman’s home because she was unwell. She couldn’t walk and so she was confined to a chair in the living room.”
“The man wouldn’t leave the room, even though I asked to speak to the woman alone. But, when I asked the man to get me a glass of water, I had a few minutes alone with the lady.
“She told me she’d only recently met the man, as he was trying to get the listing for her house and promised her that, if she put him in her will, he’d get her a better price for her house. I quickly organised to see the woman on another day, without the real estate agent, and we were able to finalise her will without the real estate agent being involved.”
Unfortunately, these are not rare occurrences, Fedorov has seen a growing number of these kinds of financial abuse, “I’m on the lookout now because I care about seniors and don’t want them to be left high and dry,” Fedorov said.
“Sadly, a large number of victims are too afraid or too ashamed to speak up while others fear being isolated from their family.”
According to the Elder Abuse Prevention Unit’s 2016 report, financial abuse was the most reported primary abuse type.
More than $300 million was reported to be misappropriated in 263 elder abuse cases during the 2015/16 financial year.
Fedorov offered some clear advice to older people who are considering re-evaluating their will. She says that the older person should see a lawyer without having friends or family in the room.
And to anyone who is considering committing elder financial abuse – the lawyers will catch you out. Fedorov says that this kind of bullying and abuse is so common now, lawyers have developed ways to help the victim through the process.
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