13 October 2022 by Selina Atim

Financial abuse of the elderly

Financial Fraud and Abuse

A recent survey conducted by Hourglass (a charity which works to challenge and prevent the abuse of older people), suggests that, on average, 39% of all calls to their helpline concern financial abuse of the elderly. According to their research, at least £13 million was reported as stolen, defrauded, or coerced from older individuals.  This doesn’t tell the whole story though because, in many instances, the abuse goes unreported.

Anyone can be guilty of financial abuse.  However, it is often family members who commit the abuse. A once trusted child might become greedy and decide that they should benefit more than their siblings from their parent’s estate, or that they are entitled to receive their inheritance “in advance”.

A recent Australian case helps illustrate these grave statistics.

Background to financial abuse case 

The case concerned Debbie Maree Turner (‘Debbie’) and Maxwell Finlay Turner (‘Maxwell’), who are alleged to have taken nearly $500,000 Australian dollars from Maxwell’s 96-year-old mother, Kathleen Turner (‘Kathleen’).

The abuse took place after Debbie and Maxwell moved in to live with Kathleen at her home. Kathleen had broken her hip and required assistance with her care to meet her day-to-day needs.

The pair abused Kathleen’s trust and repeatedly exploited her when she was vulnerable and relied upon them to conduct her affairs.

From April 2018 to February 2020, Kathleen was frequently asked by Debbie to sign blank cheques which she was told would be her “contribution towards food and household items”. Having no reason to distrust her family, and living a considerable distance from local amenities, Kathleen signed the cheques and gave Debbie access to her cheque account.

Later, following an examination of statements disclosed by Kathleen’s bank manager, it was unveiled that, in fact, Debbie was misusing Kathleen’s finances for her own benefit. Maxwell was aware of the abuse.

Action was taken against Debbie last year and the court ordered her to repay $401,000 Australian dollars or show that the money was held on trust. In recent weeks, a second suit has been filed against Maxwell seeking to recover around $85,000 Australian dollars.

Kathleen was lucky to have detected the abuse in her lifetime.  However, it is often the case that financial fraud and abuse goes undetected until after the death of the victim when the personal representatives of their estate may uncover fraudulent activity when reviewing their affairs.

What action can you take if you suspect a loved one is being, or has been subjected to financial fraud and abuse?

It is important to act quickly if you spot evidence of financial abuse. It is advisable for you to instruct a solicitor to investigate and, if appropriate, to recover any assets. Such cases can be complex and time-sensitive, and they can require swift action to be taken to prevent further loss to the victim. Litigation may be one option to recover assets.  However, success will depend on the evidence at hand and the facts of each individual case. Therefore, it is important to take specialist legal advice as soon you can.

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