British Columbia

One in ten older adults has been abused in the last month

Experts say the key to preventing financial abuse of elders is open dialogue, planning and consulting experts before it's too late.

Elder abuse often occurs behind closed doors and alongside other forms of abuse

June 15, 2017 is World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. This year the United Nations is shining a light on financial abuse of older people, saying one in 10 older adults have experienced abuse in the last month. (Shutterstock)

British Columbia's older generations are at an increased risk of abuse as they age, but there are ways to prepare for that vulnerability and prevent being taken advantage of.

The United Nations declared June 15, 2017, World Elder Abuse Awareness Day with a special focus on financial abuse. 

"If we're going to get the visibility that this issue needs, we need to have a world elder abuse day," said Gloria Gutman, founder of Simon Fraser University's gerontology department.

Start the conversation

The most important step to protecting yourself or loved ones from financial abuse is having that conversation early, before there are any questions around mental capacity or self-determination, she added.

While the topic can be difficult to broach, it's essential to establish a power of attorney and a plan for who is in charge of wills, estates and bank accounts.

"Seniors tend to be trusting souls," Gutman told Michelle Eliot, host of CBC's B.C. Almanac.

One issue is much of the abuse experienced by seniors is at the hands of family members and occurs behind closed doors, according to David Watts, a Vancouver-based notary public.

Watts suggested establishing power of attorney which sets out who has permission to manage accounts and make important decisions including selling a home and managing money.

The difficult and likely most important part of taking that step is deciding just who will have that power.

"When you have a few people involved as decision makers it's harder for abuse to happen because there has to be some sort of coercion. If you have one person that has access to money and perhaps a need for it, it starts to be a difficult situation," said Watts.

"If you love me you'll lend to me"

Both Gutner and Watts said open dialogue within the family is an important first step, but if there is no one to take on decision-making responsibilities, than visiting a notary public is the next step.

It's also important to know what makes a person vulnerable to financial abuse. People with excess money or property owners are often identified as potential victims and targeted by both ill-intentioned family members and fraudsters.

Be wary of coercive language such as "If you love me you'll lend to me," and know that financial abuse often comes along with that kind of psychological abuse as well, said Gutner.

For family members who find themselves aware of financial abuse of a parent or loved one, seeking legal advice, calling police and attempting family mediation can be some potential solutions.

But the key to preventing elder abuse is early, open dialogue and planning, according to both experts.