Identifying Elder Financial Abuse & What To Do


Many people wind up in difficult financial situations, wherein they rely upon parents or other older relatives who are only too happy to help in any way they can. But there is a point at which getting help crosses a line, and becomes a situation in which an elder relative is being taken advantage of. But it can be very difficult to identify where this line is, and it’s even more difficult to know what to do about it. What can you do when you suspect elder financial exploitation?

What does elder financial abuse look like?

In 2011, MetLife estimated that the 41 million senior citizens in the U.S. were exploited for at least $2.9 billion per year. While there is no foolproof way to know when an elder is being taken advantage of, there are some situations that you can keep an especially close eye out for, such as:

  • Someone taking money or property from an elder to pay off personal debts or to make unnecessary purchases.
  • Forging an elder’s signature on contracts or other paperwork.
  • Signing checks over in another person’s name, such as a caregiver or young relative.
  • Coercing, forcing, or deceiving an elder into signing wills, deeds, powers of attorney, or abridgements to such documents.
  • Using property, assets, or possessions belonging to an elder without express permission and a clear and rational reason for doing so (e.g. repeatedly borrowing a car, using or subleasing a piece of real estate, etc.).
  • Coercing elders into investing into questionable ventures.
  • Using or maintaining control over credit cards, other lines of credit, or cash that belong to an elder.

Such schemes are extremely common, no matter the relationship between an opportunist and an elder that is being taken advantage of. Some of the most common perpetrators include children, grandchildren, nieces and nephews, recent spouses or other persons who have recently entered into a relationship with the elder in question. But familiarity (or lack thereof) is not a barometer for determining whether or not someone is taking advantage of an older loved one. Recent romantic partners, trusted caretakers, pastors, neighbors, and attorneys have all been known to commit elder financial abuse. Don’t evaluate the persons in question; evaluate the situation.

What do I do if I suspect that elder financial abuse is taking place?

First of all, stay involved to begin with. If you suddenly shove your way into a loved one’s financial circumstances, they may feel like you have a reason to mistrust them. Maintain your attention and interest at a steady level. Long before a loved one may be hitting that point where they’re slipping badly, keep an eye on things, and signal to your elderly loved ones that you’re looking out for them, without being overbearing or coming across as suspecting that they aren’t capable of taking care of themselves. Just be watchful.

If you start suspecting that something is awry, encourage other trustworthy loved ones to check in on your elderly relative and ask about recent financial transactions and budgetary concerns. Try to be as subtle as possible. Obviously, this is easier said than done, but it’s important to not give the sense that you or a small group of relatives are pursuing an agenda. This is one of the sad ironies of such situations—relatives looking out for the well-being of elderly loved ones are often perceived by the elder loved one as being overbearing or “out to get them.” Do your best to strike a careful balance between caution and complacency.

Having many fingers in the pot is probably the most advantageous situation you can hope for. It’s much easier to convince an elderly loved one that something is awry if there are multiple trustworthy relatives who can testify to the fact that they think that something is wrong. In the meantime, report any suspicions of misdoings to local police, your state’s local senior protective services, your loved one’s financial institutions, and an attorney who has experience in such matters.

Such situations can be extremely stressful, but it’s important to not shy away from doing what is necessary. Your loved one may have a negative reaction to your intervention in the short term, but odds are that in the long run, they’ll recognize that you are working on their behalf.