The decline in the mental faculties of senior friends or other loved ones can come on gradually in ways hardly noticeable to those of us who are closest to them.
Respecting our elders means following their instructions and wishes. The only time that it is appropriate to disregard our mature friends’ wishes as to their own money, goods and real estate is when those mature friends are literally unable to make their own decisions. Nevertheless, in every situation where someone is to decide something for a mature loved one, the known wishes of the loved one (made when the loved one was competent to make those decisions) legally trumps any perceptions that the decider may have as to what is “best” for that loved one.
There are various signs that a loved one may have lost some ability or capacity to make his or her own decisions which can make that loved one extra susceptible to elder financial abuse.
Potential mental signs of a loss of capacity include consistent short-term memory loss or a person’s misunderstanding as to the person’s location, time and date. Loved ones who may consistently struggle to find the “right” word in conversation or struggle to understand or care to understand basic mathematical or thought-provoking questions may also be exhibiting signs of mental incapacity that can lead to susceptibility to abuse.
Potential emotional signs of a loss of capacity can include consistently inappropriate responses to certain events, like laughing when discussing the loss of a spouse or crying of desperation when claiming to be happy.
Possible behavior-related signs of a loss of capacity include poor grooming/hygiene, hallucinations or delusions or inappropriate social behaviors like the loss of inhibitions or lack of judgment.
The best way to determine a loved one’s susceptibility to financial abuse is to spend time with that person. Ask questions and sincerely listen to the responses that the loved one shares. A person who repeats himself or herself is not necessarily showing signs of impairment, but various consistent cues, as explained above, can piece together someone’s susceptibility.
Even if a mature loved one does not exhibit mental, emotional or behavior-related signs of impairment, there are various circumstances and actions that can hint that the loved one may be experiencing financial abuse. These circumstances include a “new best friend” accompanying the loved one to the bank, closing or otherwise liquidating bank accounts despite penalties and fees and writing out unexplainable or unreasonable checks for “gifts” or “loans.”
Long before susceptibility to abuse is even suspected, it is best to have an attorney prepare powers of attorney that name responsible people as the loved one’s agents. Those agents should stand ready to at least “spot-check” the loved one’s accounts, records and paperwork starting at and regularly following the beginning of any signs of impairment or signs of actual, potential financial abuse.
Independent of that preparation, reports of possible elder financial abuse should be reported to the local, county Job and Family Services Department’s Office of Adult Protective Services.
Lee R. Schroeder is an Ohio licensed attorney at Schroeder Law LLC in Putnam County. He limits his practice to business, real estate, estate planning and agriculture issues in northwest Ohio. He can be reached at Lee@LeeSchroeder.com or at 419-659-2058. This article is not intended to serve as legal advice, and specific advice should be sought from the licensed attorney of your choice based upon the specific facts and circumstances that you face.