When to suspect Undue Influence or Exploitation of Vulnerable Adult

Has an aged friend or loved one had a shift of attitude or begun acting strangely?  Elder Abuse doesn’t necessarily leave physical bruises.   Abuse includes any kind of abuse of power and exploitation of a vulnerable adult.  It is not always obvious or easy to put your finger on.   Indeed, the elderly person themselves may not even realize they are being abused or exploited.   For example, suppose an elderly person needs some help shopping and happens to purchase a gift for their helper while they are out.  Where is the line between a reasonable gift, versus being taken advantage of?   Sometimes that is not an easy thing to tell.  This post gives some signs to look for.

If you have a suspicion that a vulnerable adult may be subject to exploitation or abuse, the following checklist might help you discern whether there may be anything to it:

  • Isolation of the vulnerable adult from familiar friends and family.  Have certain people warned others not to visit, or is someone always present to make sure the elderly person has no chance for a private conversation?
  • Removal or firing of close relatives or long term caregivers in favor of “friends,” volunteers, unrelated caregivers, or strangers.
  • Inability to fully explain changes to estate plan or reasons for the changes.
  • Unexplained injuries.
  • Unexplained, large expenses.
  • Apprehensiveness or silence in presence of caregiver
  • Increase in symptoms of dementia when certain people are present (as this can result from stress)
  • Unwillingness of caregiver to allow vulnerable adult to speak to others or on phone
  • Sudden changes in behavior of vulnerable adult
  • Changes in balances, ownership, or residuary beneficiaries of vulnerable adult’s accounts or banking practices
  • Unexplained large withdrawals, transfers, or payments
  • New signatories on accounts
  • Complaints of lost or stolen checks or credit cards
  • Decline in personal hygiene or personal care

If you suspect abuse, discuss your concerns with someone who is experienced in representing the elderly and vulnerable.  Any elder attorney, geriatric social worker, or elder care manager can give you phone numbers for resources to help in dealing with this problem.

 

Aspen, Representing the Elderly Client, Vol. 2, Ch. 14  (Begley and Jeffreys, ed., 2009)

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