Learn the Signs of Elder Abuse and Financial Exploitation
Written by Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq. of Hanlon Niemann & Wright, a New Jersey Elder Abuse Attorney
Signs of elder abuse are generally evident, but requires a person to be tuned in and perceptive to a relationship. It’s not always as obvious as black and blue marks or loud screaming and crying confrontations.
Caregiver stress, the abuser’s emotional or financial dependence on the victim or the abuser’s own personal financial problems often lead up to acts of elder abuse. In addition, a victim’s unexplained physical injuries or sudden financial problems are signs of abuse, neglect and/or exploitation.
In guarding against abuse and protecting the abused person, you should be aware of the following:
An elderly person who is frail, dependent on others, and living in a vulnerable situation may be a candidate for abuse.
The possibility that an elderly person is the subject of physical abuse should be considered when the elderly person has unexplained injuries, or when contradictory explanations are given by the elder and the caregiver. Signs include bruises, fractures, fall downs, burns and lacerations.
Neglect may be suspected in the presence of malnutrition and poor personal hygiene.
Psychological abuse or neglect may be occurring “if the person seems extremely withdrawn, depressed or agitated; shows signs of infantile behavior or expresses ambivalent feelings toward caregivers or family members.
Elder’s Physical and Mental Condition:The physical or mental condition of many victims causes the victim’s to be dependent on the caregiver and may contribute to the abuse.
Dependence of the Abuser: Many abusers are dependent on the elderly victim because of mental illness, developmental disability, or drug or alcohol abuse. They may become abusive because of their perceived powerlessness.
Pathology of the Caregiver:Often “the abuser has a serious disabling condition such as drug or alcohol addiction, a sociopathic personality, psychiatric problems, mental retardation, dementia, or financial distress.”
Social Isolation: Families with a habit of violence may be more likely than others to be socially isolated. Isolation makes it easier to commit and hide the abuse.
External Abuse: “Financial difficulties, competing family responsibilities, or problems at work can result in abusive behavior.”
Know the Signs of Elder Abuse
I join in every word my Mom described about Mr. Niemann. She just raves about him and when she leaves his office she is calm and totally confident in his counsel, wisdom and advice. Our family is blessed with him being my Mom’s protector and confidant.
—Teresa Vincitore, West Paterson, NJ
Mr. Niemann has been a God send to me and my family. He has met with me many, many times with patience, sensitivity and understanding that few people expect from an attorney. My family issues are complex and Mr. Niemann understands what I want to happen to my estate upon my death, especially for my adult incapacitated child and other adult children. He created a special trust for my son. He has followed up with me to help me make decisions without forcing his opinions on me. In the end, he told me, “Jerri, my job is to explain your choices and help you understand the legal effect of those choices.”
He guided me and put me at ease. He wanted me to make decisions that are the right ones for me. I am thankful for Mr. Niemann being my attorney and I recommend him to elderly persons who seek a qualified professional who will treat them with dignity, respect and sensitivity.
Jeraldine Vincitore – Freehold, NJ
Signs of Financial Exploitation and Abuse of the Elder Person
The existence of financial exploitation “should be considered IF THE OLDER PERSON IS SUFFERING FROM SUBSTANDARD CARE IN THE HOME DESPITE ADEQUATE FINANCIAL RESOURCES, and/or if the person seems confused about or unaware of his or her finances; or if the person has suddenly transferred assets to a family member.” A person who worked their entire life, SAVED for retirement and lived a moderate lifestyle but who now is seemingly living day to day could be the victim of elder financial abuse and/or self neglect.
Other Signs of Financial Exploitation include:
The elderly client has recently signed papers without realizing their purpose; Many elderly persons are vulnerable to the misrepresentation (intentional & unintentional) of those persons they trust. As a result they sign legal and/or financial documents that cause them economic loss and/or outright forfeiture. Many of the legal documents consist of a Power of Attorney, Real Estate Deed, or a Joint Bank Account. In my world the most common perpetrators are children, siblings, financial planners and “friends”. Many times the elderly person has been lied to and deceived about what they are signing. Civil and Criminal prosecution including charges of fraud, theft, conversions and/or embezzlement are available options but action needs to be taken as early as possible to recover as much of the economic loss as can be legally accomplished.
Have large withdrawals of money been made from the elderly person’s accounts, or checks returned for insufficient funds; withdrawls often are made by someone who is a joint account holder or pursuant to a Power of Attorney. An aging person adds the name of someone trusted to help them with bill paying and deposits but soon thereafter the account balances start to significantly decline, or checks bounce. This type of behavior is illegal and can be heavily punished by the courts and criminal courts if action is taken.
Has the elderly person relinquished ownership of his/her home or other valuable property; The illustrations and discussion found in the preceding two (2) paragraphs are applicable here. Don’t misunderstand me. Not every transfer made by an elderly person is wrongful or even suspect. We are talking only about vulnerable elderly persons who are susceptible to the undue influence of others and who don’t understand or can’t resist the overpowering behavior and/or personality of their predator.
Is the caretaker evasive when asked about financial activities, or the caretaker asks questions only about finances, but not personal questions about the elderly client. The concerned neighbor or friend down the street is who I am talking about here and they are the most dangerous. They befriend a person with little or no family close by, take them shopping and assist with household chores. Many of these individuals are well intentioned and of good moral character, but some are not. Their personality is endearing, sincere and maybe even charming but their plan is purposeful and deliberate. These persons get their “in”, cultivate trust, and subtly influence the person to give away or name them as beneficiary upon death. It is this group of persons that I most eagerly go after once convinced they are a fraud.
Financial exploitation frequently is DIFFICULT to detect. Few people admit to being a Thief.
Usually by the time financial exploitation is discovered, the assets are depleted. The exploiting person argues that the elderly victim made a gift of the assets, making it difficult to prove the exploitation. Often, the exploitation is accomplished through the use of a (joint checking account or durable power of attorney) which cloaks the transaction with at least the appearance of legitimacy. Other Common schemes include:
The perpetrator promises to take care of the victim for life in return for the transfer of title to the victim’s home; soon after the deed is transferred, the victim is removed from the home or the victim is diagnosed with a cognitive condition and placed in a nursing home or an “emergency medical condition” develops necessitating hospitalization from which the person is subsequently placed in a nursing home and/or dies from the change in their home environment.
The perpetrator has the victim sign a durable power of attorney or changes a bank account into a joint account so the perpetrator can pay the victim’s bills; instead the perpetrator pays her own personal bills and empties the victim’s accounts. These accounts usually represent a lifetime of savings that cannot be recouped. I’ve discussed this elsewhere on this page so I won’t repeat it again here. Durable Power of Attorney are instruments of great assistance and sometimes weapons of mass destruction.
The perpetrator gets the confused and incapacitated victim to sign documents, including a power of attorney (POA) or new will, under threat, yelling or fraud; in some cases, the perpetrator forges the client’s signature on documents. Forgeiry, deceit and “mistaken” trust will have permanent consequences to the victim. See my video below. A guardianship may be in order.
How a Guardianship Can Help
Protect Against Elder Financial Abuse
Fred Niemann, Elder Abuse Lawyer in New Jersey
You should be alert to the signs of elderly financial abuse. If you recognize any of these patterns in a relationship, it probably is elder abuse and you should take action. Contact Fredrick P. Niemann, Esq., a NJ elder abuse and financial exploitation attorney. He can be reached toll-free at