Financial Elder Abuse: What’s Going On in America?

I am hearing and reading more and more stories about financial abuse of elderly people and a recent article in The Washington Post (Thursday, May 12th) gives me even greater concern. The story reports how “nurses” hired through a reputable agency nonetheless turned out to be crooks, at least based upon the allegations in a complaint filed against the agency and the individuals in Superior Court of the District of Columbia.

The reported facts in the complaint are worrisome. According to the article, the elderly couple alleges that these so-called “care givers” (who apparently were skilled home health care workers because they are referred to in the article as “nurses”) systematically removed very valuable collectibles from the couple’s home in the District of Columbia. The situation grew so serious that the elderly husband (who was recovering from a debilitating surgical procedure) left his sick bed to nail cabinets shut! The wife reportedly still cannot sleep through the night (even though the so-called “nurses” have been replaced).

And a colleague at work, who does not practice in the area of estate planning but nonetheless gets involved in situations involving the elderly because he has a large number of relatives in the area, came to me for advice recently regarding the following situation: An elderly relative had granted authorization to one of her daughters to hire some home health care workers to come regularly to the home of the elderly person to help her out. The persons who were hired as caregivers and companions (not through an agency, apparently) came very highly recommended by friends. The caregivers appeared caring and honest and so, over time, the elderly relative (and her daughter) grew to trust the caregivers.

Then, the daughter decided it was time to take a closer look at her mother’s financial situation, which apparently she did from time to time. In doing so, the daughter found that her mother had signed checks in large amounts, yet the money was unaccounted for. The mother, who was somewhat impaired, remembered nothing. And when questioned, the caregivers had a variety of explanations (“She gave us a tip!” and “She wanted us to have cash to buy her groceries!”) and then, as things happen, the caregivers disappeared … along with the money.

But that’s not the end of the story. This situation caused great turmoil within the family, because the siblings of the daughter who hired the caregivers are alleging that their sister is responsible for the loss of the money! Now the entire family is in an uproar and the daughter has resigned from her position of authority with respect to her elderly mother.

Whom can you trust? And if an agency cannot protect the elderly from thieving so-called “caregivers,” what is a person to do?

Through my elder law practice I help many families and seniors handle legal and financial aspects of in-home and nursing home care. I am also happy to refer you to proper authorities if you suspect financial abuse.