15th June is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, a United Nations event in response to the prevalence of this global issue. Melanie Grose of Coodes Solicitors’ Personal Disputes team comments on the widespread, but often overlooked, issue of financial abuse against older people.
“An estimated 500,000 elderly people experience some form of abuse, and for many this will involve someone taking their money or possessions without their consent. Legal documents such as Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPA) and Lasting Powers of Attorney (LPA) have been available for many years under which an individual can be appointed to manage the property and financial affairs of vulnerable people and individuals who have lost mental capacity.
“While LPAs were relatively recently introduced to assist in preventing financial abuse, there are problems with the new system, which I believe have made elderly people even more vulnerable. Firstly the absence of a requirement to notify family that an LPA is going to be activated by the Court means there is no opportunity for concerns to be raised by family members about the suitability of an attorney to act or, for example, about possible issues of undue pressure or fraud in making the LPA. There is a purported safeguard under which a ‘certificate provider’ needs to sign the LPA to confirm that they are confident that the individual understands what they are doing in making the LPA and no one is forcing them to do it. However the certificate provider does not need to be a Health Care Professional, Solicitor or GP. He or she can be someone who has known the LPA maker for at least two years, such as a neighbour or friend. Sadly the system has these and other loop holes, which make older people more vulnerable to later financial abuse.
“In many cases, that financial abuse only comes to light after a person has died. Typically, this is when family members are working through their papers with a solicitor and uncover large amounts of missing money that cannot be accounted for and even in some cases, forged signatures. Of course this situation is always easier to put right while the person is still alive, but all too often family members are unaware that money is being taken from their loved one.
“Fortunately, help is out there. If you suspect this is happening to your loved one, you can get help from your local Safeguarding Adults team. You can also speak to a solicitor who has expertise in this area. At Coodes, we have a dedicated Personal Disputes department that deals with these issues, as well as a Court of Protection team with expertise in working with vulnerable and elderly people.
“Despite my concerns, I would always advise people to designate an LPA. Not having an LPA would leave you more at risk and they are a vital means of ensuring you will be represented by someone who understands your wants and needs. The important thing is for all of us to be aware of the system’s shortfalls so we can spot any warning signs that an older person is experiencing financial abuse.”
For further advice and assistance on any of these issues, please contact Mel Grose by emailing email@example.com or calling 01726 874700.