When our loved ones grows old, we are often on the lookout to protect them against instances of nursing home abuse or neglect. There are other ways in which elder abuse occurs, such as when vulnerable individuals are exploited for their financial resources. Section 50-25.2-01 of the North Dakota Century Code defines “financial exploitation” in this context as “the taking or misuse of property or resources of a vulnerable adult by means of undue influence, breach of a fiduciary relationship, deception, harassment, criminal coercion, theft, or other unlawful or improper means.”
If you are concerned that your loved one might be a victim of elder financial exploitation, contact an elder law lawyer at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss.
Factors contributing to an individual’s vulnerability to financial exploitation:
Difficult to Distinguish
Unlike more overt forms of physical and emotional abuse or neglect, financial exploitation can be quite difficult to distinguish from well-intentioned or even merely ill-conceived advice. Our society values individualism and autonomy, so even elderly individuals with infirmities are given broad discretion in how they choose to use their resources. Therefore, a foolish transaction may still be perfectly legitimate and legal, but there are certainly instances in which someone abuses their position of power and influence to manipulate an elderly individual into taking detrimental financial actions.
Often, the exploiter is a family member or caretaker, and there is a genuine friendship underlying their relationship. The exploitation may not begin right away, either; the perpetrator may have had the elder’s best interests in mind initially, but eventually becomes controlling and oversteps the bounds of appropriate behavior. Furthermore, many cases of exploitation stem from a legitimate sense of entitlement. The elderly individual may feel obligated to share his or her resources with family and caregivers, and in turn, the family members and caregivers expect some form of financial compensation for the care and attention provided.
Many exploitative transfers are made with some degree of consent from the vulnerable individual. In fact, victims of exploitation may try to protect their abuser. Perhaps the abuser has brainwashed the vulnerable individual into becoming highly dependent upon their relationship by isolating the individual and convincing them that anyone else, other than the abuser, is merely trying to exploit the individual. By fostering this “us against them” mentality, the vulnerable individual is manipulated into believing that the only person “on their side” is the abuser, and is naturally turned against any attempts to break the abusive relationship. Undoing such a relationship can be highly distressing to the vulnerable individual, and he or she may feel too embarrassed to pursue legal action even after being freed from the exploitation.
Protect Your Loved Ones
There are preventative measures you can take to reduce the likelihood of financial exploitation. Encourage your loved ones to maintain contact with a variety of family, friends, and community members. Regular social contact can reduce feelings of isolation and make it harder for anyone to prey on the vulnerable individual. Setting up an estate plan will create legal protections for your loved ones’ assets as well.
If you suspect someone is suffering from elder abuse, make a report with the Vulnerable Adult Protective Services. If you believe the individual is in immediate danger, however, contact law enforcement right away.
When you are trying to care for a vulnerable family member, contact an experienced elder law attorney at O’Keeffe O’Brien Lyson Foss or call 701-235-8000 or 877-235-8002 to help you achieve peace of mind.