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World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2024 – a timely reminder to have an enduring power of attorney

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In light of  World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, on 15th June, Attwood Marshall Lawyers Legal Practice Director Jeff Garrett joined Robyn Hyland on Radio 4CRB to discuss elder abuse in Australia.


Sadly, elder abuse continues to be a growing and deeply troubling issue.

According to the Australian Institute of Family Studies, 1 in 6 older Australians experiences some form of elder abuse.

One of the most alarming trends in recent times is the increasing number of victims who live with their abusers. Over the past five years, reports indicate that there has been a staggering 69.9 per cent increase in cases where victims reside with their perpetrators.

Several factors contribute to this rise in elder abuse. Dependence on caregivers, family conflict, and domestic violence are significant risk factors. Isolation, disability, remote living situations, mental illness, dementia, and a lack of awareness of rights further exacerbate the problem.

Our ageing population faces additional pressures, including the rising cost of living and an escalating housing crisis. These challenges often lead to dual living arrangements, where adult children return to live with their parents due to financial struggles.

In some cases, this has led to inheritance impatience, where adult children feel entitled to their parent’s assets, assuming they will inherit them eventually.

Fear also plays a significant role in the reluctance of older adults to speak out against their abusers. Many victims worry about losing their relationship with the abuser, often their children, and fear potential homelessness.

Despite the desire for the abuse to stop, the fear of escalation and feelings of embarrassment prevent many from taking action.

World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is a crucial reminder of the importance of addressing and preventing elder abuse. By raising awareness and understanding the underlying causes, we can work towards creating a safer and more respectful environment for our elderly population.

Identifying elder abuse

Elder abuse can remain hidden for a long time and manifests in many forms. It can be psychological, physical, financial, sexual, or social, with many cases involving a combination of these types of abuse.

Financial abuse is the most common form, followed closely by psychological abuse, neglect, physical abuse, and sexual abuse.

Individuals with poor physical or psychological health are more vulnerable to elder abuse. In most cases, the abuser is an adult child of the older person.

Women are disproportionately affected, representing 59 per cent of victims, compared to 41 per cent of men.

Understanding the different forms of elder abuse and recognising the signs is crucial in protecting our older population. By being aware of the various ways abuse can manifest, we can better support and safeguard those at risk.

Here, we outline some of the signs to be aware of.

Financial Abuse

  • Someone close to the older person makes large bank withdrawals or transfers between accounts.
  • If the older person’s property or personal belongings go missing.
  • New changes to a Will or Power of Attorney.
  • Misusing a Power of Attorney.
  • If an older person is asked to sign documents they don’t understand.


Psychological Abuse

  • The older person shows signs of fear, anxiety, or withdrawal.
  • Someone is threatening to harm the older person or people close to them, including their pets.
  • Someone is refusing access to grandchildren to manipulate the older person.


Neglect

  • The older person shows signs of malnutrition or dehydration.
  • The older person is not being cared for properly and shows signs of poor personal hygiene or wearing dirty or unsuitable clothes for the season.
  • The older person is living in an environment unsafe or unhygienic environment.
  • The older person is not receiving the medical treatment they need.


Physical or sexual abuse             

  • The older person has unexplained injuries.
  • The older person is physically restrained or locked in a room or yard.
  • There is inappropriate touching or sexual assault.


Social

  • The older person is prevented from contacting their family or friends.
  • The older person cannot make phone calls, or someone is constantly listening to their calls and private conversations.
  • The older person is prevented from participating in religious, cultural or spiritual practices.


What should people do if they suspect an older person is being abused?

It is crucial for individuals to regularly check on their elderly relatives, friends, and neighbours. If you suspect abuse, contact the Elder Abuse Helpline to learn how to take appropriate action.

Professionals have a duty to report any suspicions of elder abuse, and the same responsibility extends to anyone in the community who notices something suspicious.  

The Elder Abuse Prevention Unit Helpline (1300 651 192) is a free support service available to the community. Whether you are experiencing abuse or have concerns about someone you think is being abused, you can contact the helpline for advice and direction.

Protecting yourself from elder abuse – Enduring Power of Attorney

If you are a victim of elder abuse, report it immediately. Don’t hesitate.

If someone in your life is coercing or forcing you to sign over assets, change your Will or Power of Attorney, or is taking money out of your bank accounts or charging things to your credit card, this is elder abuse.

An Enduring Power of Attorney (EPOA) can be an excellent way to protect yourself and ensure that someone you trust implicitly has your back when needed. However, Powers of Attorney can also be a common form of elder abuse if they are misused. This often happens when the document lacks the appropriate powers and conditions that only an experienced estate planning lawyer can recommend and draft.

Many people make the mistake of drafting their own EPOA documents, believing that a template downloaded from the internet will provide the same protection as a professionally drafted document. This can be problematic, as templates may not address specific needs or legal nuances, leading to potential abuse.

When creating an EPOA, it is crucial to seek advice about who to appoint as your attorney. It must be someone you trust implicitly. If you do not have family members or friends who will make decisions in your best interest, appointing an independent professional may be the best solution. Laws also differ between the states and territories. For instance, in New South Wales, there are two documents required – in addition to the EPOA, you also need an Appointment of Enduring Guardian to cover decisions about lifestyle and medical treatment. There are also issues with people who live in one state and get treatment in another – this happens quite often in border towns. Some hospitals have issues with interstate documents.

Banks are becoming more suspicious and implementing more robust mechanisms when activating an EPOA, and tribunals are very busy dealing with capacity and attorney disputes for vulnerable persons. Drafting a proper EPOA with an experienced estate planning lawyer would help avoid these issues, ensuring you receive the appropriate advice and make an informed decision when crafting the document for your circumstances. It also forms a big part of your overall estate planning and should not be overlooked.

It is important to be cautious about involving the Public Trustee as your attorney. While the Public Trustee can provide a service for vulnerable members of our community, there have been many instances where their involvement has led to complications and issues with how assets are managed, as well as poor communication and refusing to release funds to cover necessities. Always explore all your options and seek professional advice before making this decision.

By taking these steps and being aware of the risks, you can protect yourself from elder abuse and ensure your wishes are respected. Remember, elder abuse is a serious issue, and staying informed is the key to prevention.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers – providing trusted advice to ensure your best interests are protected

We have played a dominant role in protecting the interests of the elderly in our community. With many long-standing elderly clients whom we act for, our renowned intent is to provide expert knowledge and advice on issues related to elder law, including estate planning, estate administration, estate litigation, transitioning to aged care, and elder abuse.

We are driven to facilitate change and raise awareness of how elder abuse is impacting those most vulnerable in our community.

Attwood Marshall Lawyers is one of the few law firms with a dedicated aged care department. Our team includes three Accredited Aged Care Professionals who play a pivotal role in helping older community members understand their rights and navigate the challenges they face later in life and during the transition to aged care.

If you need advice from an elder law expert, whether it is to update your estate plan, draft an Enduring Power of Attorney, seek guidance about elder abuse, or transitioning to aged care, we can help.

Please contact our Wills and Estates and Aged Care Department Manager, Donna Tolley, on direct line 07 5506 8241, email dtolley@attwoodmarshall.com.au or book an appointment online instantly by clicking here. We also have a 24/7 phone line available which we can be reached on by phoning 1800 621 071.

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Jeff Garrett - Legal Practice Director - Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

Jeff Garrett

Legal Practice Director
Wills & Estates, Estate Litigation, Property & Commercial, Compensation Law, Commercial Litigation, Criminal Law, Racing & Equine Law

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Disclaimer
The contents of this article are considered accurate as at the date of publication. The information contained in this article does not constitute legal advice and is of a general nature only. Readers should seek legal advice about their specific circumstances. 

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