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It’s a confronting thought, but elder abuse is more common in families than in aged care facilities. The most likely form is financial, and it often results from well-intentioned plans that go wrong. Here are some ideas on how to help your family avoid the pitfalls.
It’s a win-win idea. A parent sells their home to move in with their adult child’s family, providing cash for the deposit or renovations and helping with the mortgage and providing free childcare. In return, there’s companionship, care and physical support for the older person.
But sometimes these plans go awry, leaving the elderly parent in a living arrangement they don’t enjoy and can’t afford to leave.
Although everyone meant well, the outcome may be elder abuse, which experts define as “any act occurring within a relationship where there is an implication of trust, which results in harm to an older person”.
One of the problems is that family agreements are often oral with no paper trail, says Russell Westacott, CEO of Seniors Rights Service and co-chair of Elder Abuse Action Australia. He urges people to write things down.
“If the plan does not work out, then at least the older person can show how much money they put into the arrangement and claim some or all of it back.”
Russell is concerned about the financial turmoil caused by COVID-19.
“Lots of adult children have stresses on their businesses, or they may have lost their job and be struggling to pay their bills. Some may put pressure on Mum or Dad around access to the capital in their family house or their savings and investments.”
Elder financial abuse does not necessarily involve cash or transactions, notes Russell.
“A common scenario is an adult child being out of work and moving back to their bedroom as a temporary solution.”
But years later, they are still there against their parents’ wishes and it can be difficult, emotionally and legally, to get rid of them.
Another subtle form of financial abuse involves a family member or a friendly neighbour offering to go to the shops for the older person but skimming off money each time, Russell says.
“We have people calling us to say for the last 12 months they have been giving this person $200 a week, but they only get $100 of groceries back,” Russell says.
People can reduce this risk by formalising shopping arrangements and other support with a service provider.
This is an area in which financial planners can make a positive impact.
“A little like estate planning, every financial plan should include a solution for aged care planning,” says Louise Biti, a Director at Aged Care Steps who has been training financial planners for more than 23 years.
Plan for frailty
Louise believes a well-documented plan can help protect people from elder abuse. But she is concerned many people find it challenging to plan for frailty.
But having a retirement plan that acknowledges a period of frailty may reduce the risk of an older client giving their money to an adult child without considering the consequences.
Often, the last line of defence is the financial planner — the voice of reason at the table, Louise says.
A financial planner with experience in aged care can help you set up a well-documented plan for your retirement and may also be able to advise you about budgeting for and accessing home care support and frailty care.