Articles & Publications

Tips to Combat Elder Abuse at Home and In the Office

Posted June 22, 2012 by Jamie Kent Hamelburg in Articles & Publications, Business Publications

Articles featured on our site typically deal with items of a "business" nature. In the past, we've written about leases, foreclosures, intellectual property, alternative methods of resolving commercial disputes and the like. Today, however, we want to focus on a topic that is both "personal" and "business" in nature and can impact any one of us-the issue of elder abuse and ways to combat it.

The prevalence of elder financial abuse at home was recently highlighted in a blog by Leah Nichaman, founder and president of Everyday Money Management, a firm that assists senior citizens (and others such as individuals with physical and mental disabilities) in need of help with financial tasks. Ms. Nichaman noted that seniors are falling victim to financial abuse at an alarming rate. Pointing to the case of Mickey Rooney, who suffered abuse at the hands of his stepson, Ms. Nichaman pointed out that anyone, regardless of gender, race or socioeconomic class, can be a victim of elder financial abuse.

Of equal notoriety is the case of Brooke Astor, the 104-year old New York socialite and philanthropist, who was under the abusive care of her 82-year old only son. He was ultimately sentenced to prison following a trial on criminal counts including grand larceny for looting his mother's $180 million fortune. Sadly, in Ms. Astor's case, her attorney was also convicted along with her son on counts relating to forgery. Ms. Nichaman's tips for helping an older family member avoid the same fate as Mr. Rooney and Ms. Astor are:

1. Ask whomever has access to an older family member's checkbook to use the memo line provided on a check and make it a habit to note for what the check was written.

2. Ask the elderly family member to give you online access to all accounts so that you can review them on a regular basis.

3. Remind the elderly family member not to leave checkbooks or account statements in an unlocked space.

4. Review bank and credit statements with the elderly family member monthly.

5. Ask the elderly family member to talk with you before spending large amounts of money or engaging a contractor.

More suggestions on ways to combat elder abuse at home are in Ms. Nichaman's blog and The Everyday Money Management website.

Elder financial abuse is not limited to personal dealings at home. It can occur in the business environment as well. In cases of family-owned businesses, a younger generation motivated by personal greed could try to persuade a parent or grandparent to make business decisions not in the best interest of the company (such as, for example, to use the company's assets as leverage for a personal loan). With the right amount of pressure on an elderly parent or grandparent, this can be tantamount to elder financial abuse. As another example, once-trusted employees also can gain access to the company checkbook and issue unauthorized checks.

Here are some tips for helping an older family member not become a victim of financial abuse in his or her company affairs:

1. Ask the company's bank to require two signatures on company checks. This can make it more difficult for anyone, be it a family member or employee, to write checks without authorization.

2. Establish procedures for checkbooks and account statements to be kept in a locked space.

3. Review corporate bank and credit card statements each month with the business's bookkeeper.

4. Ask the elderly family member to talk with you before signing any contracts or other financial documents.

5. Make contact with the elderly family member's accountant and attorney to discuss any concerns you might have about the possibility of abuse.

6. Ask the elderly family member's stockbroker or investment advisor to advise you of any monetary request that seems out of the ordinary.

A watchful eye and the involvement of family members can prevent the occurrence of financial elder abuse. By following the tips outlined above, elder abuse can be combated both at home and in the office. If you’re interested in finding out more about Press, Dozier & Hamelburg, LLC’s elder law practice and information on preparing trusts and wills and protecting against elder abuse, please see our estate planning page and asset protection page.

Press, Dozier & Hamelburg partners with businesses to achieve their goals, and represents families and individuals, often when they are most vulnerable. Our attorneys deliver valuable insight and counsel in the areas of business law, employment law, litigation, commercial real estate, estate planning and administration, and business succession planning. We provide all of our clients with personal service, emphasizing responsiveness, sensitivity, and respect. We are located in Bethesda and serve Maryland, Virginia and Washington, DC.