How to protect yourself from Elder Abuse
Contributed by Timothy Keeney
A prevalent, but often unheralded, social problem facing an aging population in the United States is elder abuse. Elder abuse takes many forms, and can affect older adults from every socio-economic background. The types of abuse range from physical and emotional harm to financial exploitation. In Connecticut, it is estimated that over $156 million is lost each year due to elder fraud. Nationally the figure is between $20-$25 billion. Only one in 23 cases is actually reported to either the Department of Social Services or local police department. Last year, one in 10 of Connecticut’s elderly fell victim to financial fraud, each victim losing approximately $2,415.
Connecticut has taken steps to protect its senior citizens by creating mandatory reporting of elder abuse. Certain professionals are required to report suspected abuse, neglect, abandonment, or exploitation of the elderly to the Department of Social Services (DSS) within 72 hours of discovering suspected abuse. Connecticut statutes, both criminal and civil, provide recourse to recover losses. Some cases allow treble damages. If the culprit is a beneficiary under a Will, the Court can prohibit an inheritance.
While these are important steps towards safeguarding Connecticut’s senior citizens, older individuals need to take control over their financial well-being and be aware of elder fraud and strategies that can be employed to protect themselves from financial exploitation. A knowledgeable elder law attorney can draft documents that include checks and balances to better protect the elder person. First and foremost, the decision maker needs to be someone you trust. If you have a power of attorney you may want to have multiple agents where both must sign to release funds. If your situation warrants the creation of a trust, you may have co-trustees appointed who must act jointly in order to authorize their actions. A trust may be voluntarily submitted to the jurisdiction of a Probate Court to allow oversight and supervision of annual accountings. Concerning Conservatorships established by a Probate Court have built-in safeguards including general Court supervision and periodic accounting requirements for the fiduciary