Managing Your Money

The abuse often seems to begin innocently enough with a few small purchases or simple financial requests. The person being abused often won’t even realize that they’re being taken advantage of, until it’s gone way too far. Financial abuse of retirees, is by far the most disturbing and heartbreaking issue that I have faced in my financial career, especially when it’s an adult child who is taking advantage of an elderly parent, aunt, or grandparent.

Special Note:
We will be hosting a lecture on Elder Financial Abuse this spring.
Please contact Anna at 514.981.5796 or anna.poblador@richardsongmp.com for more info or to receive an invitation.

Financial abuse is the most common form of elder abuse in Canada, and basically refers to the theft or exploitation of a person’s money, property, or assets. It can show up in various ways, from the seemingly innocent child charging their gas or groceries to their parent’s credit card, to the more obvious cases of misusing a Power of Attorney, stealing money or possessions, or unduly pressuring a senior to sell property, withdraw investments, make changes to a will, or sign documents that they don’t understand. The abuser can show up in many forms. It could be a family member, caregiver, friend or neighbour. It could also be someone whom the senior trusts who provides a service to them.

The worst case I’ve seen involved an adult son who moved in with his mother under the pretext that he was going to take care of her. He was unemployed, and had gambling and drug problems. Not only did he have his mother make him her sole power of attorney, sole mandatory and sole beneficiary of her will, but he regularly coerced her to withdraw money from her accounts, and had access to her online banking and credit cards. Her two daughters petitioned the courts to have him removed as mandatory, and won, but not before he had already withdrawn a large amount of her savings. Sadly, she passed away before anything could be done about her will, leaving her two daughters with nothing from her estate.

It’s hard to get accurate statistics on elder abuse since many older adults may feel ashamed or embarrassed to tell anyone they are being abused by someone they trust. They may fear retaliation or punishment, have concerns about having to move from their home or community, or feel a sense of family loyalty. The reported cases of elder abuse have doubled in the past 10 years, and with an expected 98% increase in seniors of 85 years old in the next 20 years, the numbers are expected to continue rising.

If you’re a child or a friend of someone who you worry could be taken advantage of, watch for the warning signs. Things like changes in the living arrangements, such as previously uninvolved relative or “new friend” moving in or becoming very involved in the older adult’s life, especially if that person starts accompanying the senior to meetings with lawyers and financial advisors. Changes in banking or spending patterns can also be a red flag. Social isolation and confusion about financial situation or signing of legal documents can also be reason for concern.

If you are concerned that you yourself might be being taken advantage of, think about these questions: has anyone asked me to sign papers that I didn’t understand? Has anyone taken my money or things without asking? Has anyone close to me been trying to help me with my finances?  Has anyone close to me abused drugs, alcohol, gambling, or been convicted of criminal activity?

If you or someone you know is in a situation of financial abuse, here are some things that you can do.  Talk with someone you trust and respect about your worries. Contact your bank or financial advisor about how you can protect yourself and ensure you have current information about your financial accounts and legal documents. Contact the Human Rights Commission at 1.800.361.6477. The Commission is an organization that makes sure the protections in the Quebec Charter of Human Rights and Freedoms are respected. The services of the Commission are free. You can also call Aide Abus Aînés, a bilingual, confidential help line and referral service for seniors who are victims of exploitation, abuse or neglect. Call either 1.888.489.2287 or 514.489.2287 in Montreal. Or simply call the police. For more information about Elder Abuse, contact the National Initiative for the Care of the Elderly at 416.978.2197 or www.nicenet.ca.

Protecting yourself or your loved one from financial abuse starts with ensuring that all financial and legal affairs are up to date. Be aware of what is happening with your money and property. Keep copies of everything you sign. Keep all valuables, and important documents in a safe place and tell someone you trust where to find them. Open all your mail yourself, and review your bank and credit card statements.  Don’t let family members or anyone else pressure you into making financial decision.

If you have a Power of Attorney, make sure you understand your rights. Carefully consider who you name as your Power of Attorney. If you have children and are planning to name them as power of attorney, consider how well they manage their own finances, and if you want them managing yours. It’s not easy to think about a close family member or child in a critical way, but it’s important to consider their relationship with you, as well as other family members, and it’s important to clearly understand the power that they will have. It is often best to consider naming more than one person as power of attorney or mandatary, especially if you lack trust in any one individual. Odd numbers allow for a majority rules, but even if you name two, disputes can be settled by a notary or lawyer. The bottom line is to name someone you trust, who preferably lives in the same geographical area, and most importantly, who has your best interests at heart. If you have no one close to you who meets those criteria, consider appointing a professional, such as a notary or lawyer.

The best way to protect yourself or a loved one from elder abuse is to put plans in place early. Regardless of your situation, discussing your concerns with your professional advisor or financial planner can help guide you through the process of keeping you or your loved one safe from financial abuse.  Having a professional explain in plain English the legal jargon in your Power of Attorney, mandate or Will, can give you confidence and ensure that your wishes are met and that you are well protected.

Lynn MacNeil, F.PL. Vice President, Investment Advisor, is a Financial Planner with Richardson GMP Limited in Montreal, with over 22 years of experience working with retirees and pre-retirees. For a private financial consultation, or more information on this topic or on any other investment or financial matter, please contact Lynn MacNeil at 514.981.5795 or Lynn.MacNeil@RichardsonGMP.com.

The opinions expressed in this article are the opinions of Lynn MacNeil and readers should not assume they reflect the opinions or recommendations of Richardson GMP Ltd. or its affiliates. The comments contained herein are general in nature and are not intended to be, nor should be construed to be, legal or tax advice to any particular individual. Accordingly, individuals should consult their own legal or tax advisors for advice with respect to the tax consequences to them, having regard to their own particular circumstances. Richardson GMP Limited, Member Canadian Investor Protection Fund.

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