How to Protect Loved Ones From Elder Financial Abuse

If you’ve hired a caregiver for a spouse, parent or other loved one in need of assistance, make sure they’re tidying things up, not cleaning your loved one out.

In yet another instance of a caregiver trying to take advantage of his charge, a client recently reported a problem with a man hired to take care of her husband, who suffers from dementia. While the wife was out of the house, her husband’s caregiver had been ingratiating himself in an attempt to get the husband to transfer assets into his name. Fortunately, the client was paying close attention and was able to fire the person, preventing what could have become a huge problem.

This averted disaster serves as an important reminder: You need to protect the financial information of the elderly and incapacitated. Whether it’s workers providing in-home care or staff in a facility or continuing care community, you need to prevent financial loss, identity theft and other scams. Take these steps:

  • Place under lock and key all financial information, such as tax returns and other documents containing Social Security numbers and account numbers.
  • Handle mail carefully. Have it sorted by a family member, not hired personnel, unless they are bonded and vetted.
  • Close credit card accounts held by a person suffering from dementia. If there is a need to keep a credit card open, family members must be particularly protective of that card number and watch for any unusual purchases.
  • Give powers of attorney to responsible family members — and have those documents signed before dementia occurs.
  • Get legal advice if you believe fraud has occurred.
  • Ask doctors to provide written statements verifying the inability of a person to manage financial matters. Communicate this inability to the person's financial advisors.
  • Give trusted family members duplicate bank statements so they can check for unauthorized withdrawals.

More information is also available from the National Center on Elder Abuse at www.ncea.aoa.gov.

Originally published in Inside Personal Finance February 2011

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