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Financial Elder Abuse – Friend helps as family steals

Posted Jun 14 2013 9:02am

Brenda Avadian The Caregiver's Voice My heart broke when I learned the elder abuse story of Flo and Jo (identifying details and names changed).

I’ve heard many stories since becoming a caregiver 17 years ago for my father diagnosed with dementia.

All too often stories like this remain hidden. Estimates range from 14 to 23 UNreported cases for every report of Elder Abuse. We’re truly looking at the tip of a very large iceberg.

The Caregiver’s Voice shares the following example of financial elder abuse to raise awareness. 

Brenda Avadian, TCV Ed.

About 15 years ago, Florence’s (Flo) husband died. Flo was distraught, lost, and lonely. She had no desire to live without her beloved husband. Flo became quite frail.

Josephine (Jo) was moved by Flo’s situation having suffered the loss of two immediate family members. After church one day, she invited Flo to live with her.

Elder Abuse - a violation of human rights and a significant cause of illness, injury, loss of productivity, isolation, and despair.  –World Health Organization

Related Article: Elder Abuse Hits Home

With Jo’s kindness and caring, Flo managed to survive another ten years; except she was frequently forgetting and growing increasingly disoriented. Jo, who worked an hour’s drive from home grew more anxious and stressed fearing for Flo at home alone. She hired in-home care, but Flo was headstrong and it didn’t work out well after trying several different caregivers.

When we talked, Jo’s mind was a jumble of thoughts including retiring early so she could stay home and care for Flo. She recounted the earlier years when a very frail Flo wanted to join her late husband. At the time, given Flo’s health, she would have been lucky to live another year-and-a-half. It’s a testament to Jo’s caring that Flo lived so long.

I reminded Jo that Flo’s children should really be responsible for their mother’s care not a friend from church who is footing the bill.

But we don’t live in an ideal world.

I emphasized to a very caring Jo that she should consider her own future and not throw away the lucrative job she had worked hard to achieve.

We evaluated other options including agency-provided (instead of independent) in-home care or temporary care in a residential care home. The latter provided a much better option as Jo would worry less with 24-hour care.

After an initial failed attempt when headstrong Flo made life miserable for her professional caregivers, the second residential care home worked better.

Who pays?

Related Article: Warning -Relative in Distress Scams

Jo had been paying out of pocket for full-time residential care after applying Flo’s meager Social Security and annuity funds to the monthly costs when I received this (abridged) email from Jo:

Subject: Some new developments with [Flo]

For the past three months, [Flo's] son got into some financial difficulties and has been taking 80% or more of her income from her checking account. He always tells me when he takes money out but it is after the fact and never asks if we can afford it. So for any check that [Flo] writes, I have to take money out of my own account to ensure that her checks don’t bounce.

WHAT? Jo is NOT even related to Flo! How can a son drain his mom’s account and take advantage like this? 

Jo’s email continues:

We considered removing [Flo's son's] name off of the account but couldn’t since it was a joint checking account.

I will need to open a new checking account at a new bank, have her Social Security, annuity, and all of her direct payments transferred over.

Imagine the time it will take for Jo to accomplish this–especially since she works an hour away from home.

I was told it normally took from 30-90 days for all this to process through and in the meantime he would still be able to withdraw funds from this account.

To top it off, once everything is switched over; he would have to agree to close the old account. If he did not agree, [Flo] would still be liable for any overdraft her son creates.

Related Article: Last Will and Embezzlement

Who creates muddled laws allowing innocent Good Samaritans to be taken advantage of by family members?

I absolutely do not want to put my name on her account, but am worried as to how long she would be able to handle it on her own. I hate all of this financial hubbub. I will take care of [Flo] whether she is able to contribute to the household or not.

What I am upset about is that her son seems to think taking funds out of the account is OK.

And you know this makes [Flo] feel like she is a burden. She will not stop apologizing.

A second issue is that [Flo] is getting worse every day. Saturday morning I was in the shower when I heard her call me in a panic. I rushed out of the shower and ran down the hall all wet and soapy.

There she stood in the kitchen telling me she was lost and did not know where she was.

On Sunday, she dreamed that her son lived at our house and she was convinced that she had just had an argument with him. She proceeded to go over the argument that never occurred every five minutes since then.

In the next moment, she can turn around and talk to someone else like she is perfectly OK.

I have decided that I have no other option than to retire at age 62 and move [to another state] so that [Flo] can be close to her niece and her other son.

Is Jo insane? It’s likely, due to being exhausted from being a caregiver while working full time.

I sure could use friend to talk to about my anger, fear, and despair. In the meantime, I still have my job to do, bills to pay, and all the rest. I feel like I’m losing my mind.

I find myself too soon old and too late smart.

Jo and I talked on the telephone. I confessed: Jo, I have rarely read an email like this that caused me to break out into goose bumps.

One thing that raises my ire is when a kind-hearted soul is taken advantage of.

We discussed options.

Mostly, she needed to be heard by someone who has already walked this road and understood.

Then gentle Jo grew angrier about the reality of her situation. This was a good thing.

[Flo] is their mother and their responsibility. She is not even related to me in any way and I am going to have to sacrifice my future for her and her … son. Some days, I wish I could load her up in the car and drop her off on her son’s doorstep. The only thing that is stopping me is that I know how frightened [Flo] would be and how poorly she would be treated.

If I had known about this ten years ago, I would have run screaming in the other direction. Where has the love and common decency gone?

You know that it is not the fact that her son is taking all of his mother’s money because he is too lazy to get a job. It is not that I will retire at 62 and live on a lower income for the rest of my life. It is not that I can no longer talk to [Florence] and have her understand what I am saying. I think it is that I am going to quit my job, move to another state and then [Florence] is going to die and I am going to be left alone with the very people who never wanted her in the first place.

CONGRATULATIONS to Josephine. She did not take early retirement. Instead, after several discussions,  Flo’s son stopped taking funds out of the account. Jo has peace of mind with Flo in a nice residential care home. Although, Flo’s children have not helped in 15 years, several raises have helped Jo feel more secure in helping Flo with whom she’s grown closer over the years.

In the U.S. alone, the National Institute of Justice reported 2.5 million victims of elder abuse in 2008. Yet for every reported incident of abuse 23.5 cases go unreported. (Earlier estimates were 14 unreported cases for every reported incident.)

  • 47% of People with dementia were abused by family caregivers.
  • $3 Billion is lost each year to financial abuse.
  • Elder abuse raises healthcare costs for all of us–adding over $5 Billion dollars annually in the US.
  • Abuse victims are 2 times more likely to be hospitalized.
  • Abuse victims are 4 times more likely to go into a nursing home.

Figures cited in Elder Abuse: How Funders Can Make a Difference, a webinar presented in 2013 by Laura Mosqueda, MD and Mary Twomey, MSW, C0-directors of the Center of Excellence on Elder Abuse and Neglect at the University of California – Irvine.

June 15 is Elder Abuse Awareness Day worldwide.


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