What If We Declared a War on Elder Abuse?

Diana in Venice

What will it take to raise the public’s awareness of the prevalence of elder abuse? Here is a recent New York Times article about a woman from Washington state, a granddaughter of a victim of elder financial exploitation, who has made her mission in life to secure further legal protection for vulnerable elders.  I tip my hat to the Elder Law Profs blog for the mention of this article.  For this post, I’m focusing primarily on financial fraud and exploitation of elders.

Colorado statistics over the last several years (since the change in law concerning mandatory reporting of elder abuse and investigation by law enforcement) indicate the numbers continue to rise dramatically.  Read this Denver Post article from last fall with some of the breathtaking numbers in Colorado.  The national numbers are a bit more complicated, due in part to the variances of state laws concerning elder abuse – not all states have made it a crime to financially exploit an elder, as well as how such crimes get reported.  In Colorado, law enforcement and county adult protective services are part of the investigative framework for suspected elder abuse and some district attorneys’ offices have specialized prosecutors for such crimes.  The federal law, the Elder Justice Act – about which I have previously written, could provide an important means for developing a more systematic approach to reporting (among other important things) remains only partly funded.

A 2011 study published by MetLife Mature Market Institute estimates the financial loss by victims of elder financial crimes and exploitation exceeds $2.9 billion dollars annually, but this number remains controversial as other studies have estimated $17 billion or $36 billion.  Read about the variety of those numbers here.

How do we define fraud on elders?  That is a big part of the problem with a lack of any “standardized” way to identify such fraud and abuse so as to generate reportable numbers for particular types of fraud and abuse.  One thing that most are certain of is that the exploitation and fraud are both widely underreported –due to the shame and embarrassment factor, particularly when the perpetrator is a family member, friend or neighbor (occupying a position of trust).

Know the risk factors

Forbes recently ran an article by John Wasik that had a great summary of four of these which consider the elder’s behavior:

  • Poor Physical Health. Those who are physically compromised are unlikely to be focused on financial matters. They are often vulnerable to swindles.
  • Cognitive Impairment. When the ability to do basic things like read a banking statement or balance a checkbook declines, that’s when you have to pay attention. Those with declining math skills will not be asking important questions about new investing “opportunities.”
  • Difficulty in Activities of Daily Living. If a person has trouble feeding themselves, bathing or shopping, that’s a big set of red flags. That also means that they will have trouble managing money.
  • Social Isolation.Are they all alone? Then they won’t have the support of a network of peers, who could warn about scams.

Recognize the signs

The signs are of course numerous and varied, but keep in mind that there are many ways in which the behavior of the perpetrator of the fraud or exploitation of the elder mimics that of a perpetrator of domestic violence.

  • Use and abuse of control of the elder’s finances, such as taking, misusing, or using without the elder’s knowledge or permission their money or property;
  • Forging, forcing, or using deception, coercion or undue influence to get an elder person’s signature on a legal document – this could include signing over title to a home or other asset, or a power of attorney or a will;
  • Forging or otherwise forcing, or using deception or other inappropriate means to misappropriate funds from a pension or other retirement income, to cash an elder’s checks without permission or authorization;
  • Abusing joint signature authority on a bank account or misusing ATMs or credit cards;
  • Exploitation through a fiduciary relationship – such as an agent under a financial power of attorney acting beyond the scope of the agent’s authority, or improperly using the authority provided by a conservatorship, trust, etc.
  • Misleading an elder by providing true but misleading information that influences the elder person’s use or assignment of assets, persuading an impaired elder person to change a will or insurance policy to alter who benefits from the will or policy;
  • Promising long-term or lifelong care in exchange for money or property and not following through on the promise, overcharging for or not delivering caregiving services; and
  • Denying elders access to their money or preventing them from controlling their assets or gaining information about their assets.

Keep in mind that neither of these lists is comprehensive or exhaustive!

Report suspected abuse, exploitation or fraud

If you aren’t sure who to call and the situation doesn’t require a 911 call, use the National Center on Elder Abuse’s resource page to determine who to call.

The only way we will get a better handle on the extent and pervasiveness of elder financial abuse and exploitation is to become more familiar with it so that we know how to ask those whom we seek to protect.

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org

Identifying the Inner Landscape of Elderhood

 

Italian Arch

Last week I went on a “spring break” trip of sorts. . .  to the Jung in Ireland seminar with the Monks of Glenstal Abbey. This year’s topic was shame and pride.  It was my third trip to Ireland for this seminar and this year’s topic resonated with me because I encounter these difficult emotions – particularly shame – in my elder law and probate practice.  Some of the issues I see, which have burgeoned into legal difficulties and which may necessitate legal proceedings – often resulting in extensive involvement by a court, might begin with these difficult emotions and play out badly in the family relationship context.

In my experience, one of the most difficult things for an elder parent to contend with is a squabble over how the elder’s health challenge or cognitive decline or other age-related malady will be managed by the adult children.  This can be a difficult place for a family as the elder parent just wants the kids to stop fighting, while the children often wage a pitched battle over who has the correct approach to helping the parent manage difficulties, as well as difficulties in identifying and upholding what each child perceives (often differently) as the best interests of a parent.  These adult children often cannot understand that each of them may be just as convinced as another sibling with an opposing point of view that they are uniquely equipped to handle the delicate issue of managing finances, helping secure appropriate housing or serving as a health care agent for their parent.

I offer these posts as a kind of alternative to an elder parent doing nothing – hoping not to cause world war III among their children.   Some parents hold to their firmly held belief that they “raised their kids right” and so naïvely want to believe that this thinking will somehow immunize them from conflict or worse, exploitation.  Many elders simply choose to wait, and simply hope for the best in the event a crisis occurs, to see how things might play out on a kind of wait and see basis.  There is an alternative to this denial!

This alternative I describe is about the kairos of elderhood. Kairos being the quality of time, the paying attention to the present and its opportunities to see what is in front of us and that which we have set before ourselves.  In our culture we focus almost exclusively on the quantitative aspect of time – chronos – as we simultaneously obsess over our longevity and puzzle over what to do with it.  In this post, I will identify the inner landscape as a determiner of what we see and perceive as the outside world – and how this might free us from some of our anxieties about aging and its deleterious effect on our human doing-ness.

What is the “inner landscape” to which I refer?  Well, the inner would refer here to the landscape which is inside us, how we see the world. I am reminded of Anais Nin’s keen observation that “we see the world not as it is but as we are.”  How can we remember this important detail in our “always on” world, where the disease of busy-ness is a chronic affliction and the pace of our lives offers few opportunities (much less encouragement) of staking out some reflective and contemplative time in our lives to consider an inner landscape?

In his book Mindsight, the psychiatrist Daniel Siegel offers an insightful description about personal transformation(s) that can lead to an integration of a self otherwise consisting of many disparate aspects.  I quote Mindsight at 238:

This drive for continuity and predictability [of a sense of self] runs head-on into our awareness of transience and uncertainty.  How we resolve the conflict between what is and what we strive for is the essence of temporal integration.

How many of us could remember by heart Blaise Pascal’s injunction “in difficult times carry something beautiful in your heart?”  If we can remember, perhaps that something beautiful is a feature of our inner landscape, made visible to us by an experience when we were outdoors in nature, in an interaction with another person or being, or perhaps by some sense of our identity relative to the “outside” world.  Our sense of permanence is illusory, and draws us again to the distinction between what we see and what we look for – the latter being where the Kairos quality of time resides.

That “something beautiful” is perhaps what Viktor Frankl describes in this quote from Man’s Search for Meaning, in which he describes the challenge of readjusting to life outside for the concentration camp survivors like himself:

What was really needed was a fundamental change in our attitude toward life. We had to learn ourselves and, furthermore, we had to teach the despairing men, that it did not really matter what we expected from life, but rather what life expected from us. We needed to stop asking about the meaning of life, and instead think of ourselves as those who were being questioned by life—daily and hourly. Our question must consist, not in talk and meditation, but in right action and in right conduct. Life ultimately means taking the responsibility to find the right answer to its problems and to fulfill the tasks which it constantly sets for each individual.

I am reminded also of “Against the Pollution of the I,” by another concentration camp survivor (the blind French resistance leader), Jacques Lusseyran, where he describes “seeing” (remember he lost his sight as a child) …

It is often said that seeing brings us closer to things.  Seeing certainly permits orientation, the possibility of finding our way in space.  But with what part of an object dies it acquaint us?  It establishes a relationship with the surface of things.  With the eyes we pass over furniture, trees, people.  This moving along, this gliding, is sufficient for us.  We call it cognition.  And here, I believe, lies a great danger.  The true nature of things is not revealed by their first appearance.

Against the Pollution of the I, at 54 (2006: Morning Light Press).

I will end this post with another question, akin to the kairos-chronos distinction: If we as individuals and as persons in relationship with loved ones valued our time (how we spend it) as much as we do our space (how we fill it with stuff) – could this change our relationships for the better?

© Barbara E. Cashman 2017   www.DenverElderLaw.org