Physical, emotional and financial abuse against seniors often revolves around money, something notary publics across the province say they can help prevent.
That abuse can be perpetrated on the elderly by strangers, acquaintances or family members, often leaving seniors unsure who to trust for looking after their financial affairs.
In recognition of Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, B.C. Notaries want to alert seniors how they can ensure their financial or real estate assets are safeguarded from scammers, and their wishes be clearly and legally documented for a time when they can’t make decisions for themselves.
Elder abuse is a significant concern in B.C. where 18.3 per cent of the province’s population are 65 or older, compared to the national average of 16.9 per cent, and seven of the 10 Canadian municipalities with the largest share of people over 65 are in B.C.
According to a 2016 Statistics Canada report, the B.C. communities in that top 10 list include Osoyoos, Creston, White Rock and No. 1-ranked Sidney.
“A lot of seniors we meet are worried about giving up their independence, and realize that creating a Power of Attorney, health care directives and a will empower them and ensure their wishes are followed and interests are protected,” said Tammy Morin Nakashima, president of B.C. Notaries.
Nakashima cited three areas where notaries can offer assistance:
1) Creating a Power of Attorney—someone designated to manage finances and legal affairs.
2) Create a Representation Agreement—provides a designated individual with authority that typically includes minor and major health carte, personal care and living arrangements, legal affairs and routine financial affairs.
3) Set up a joint bank account—a trusted family member or close friend can provide as second set of eyes monitoring any suspicious transactions such as large cash withdrawals related to a scam or fraud; a notary or other legal counsel input on this step is advisable because this kind of joint tenancy arrangement could unintentionally alter an individual’s estate plan.
“We often work with seniors and their loved ones to create legal documents that help to protect them from becoming victims of fraud,” said Jennifer O’Donnell, a notary in Penticton.
“Unfortunately, while many people assume most abusers are strangers, in actual fact it’s too-often a family member pressuring a grandparent, parent or elderly family member for money.”
The difficulty seniors often face in creating a financial strategy is the element of trust and protection of their financial assets, particularly when their health starts to make it difficult to look after their own affairs.
The financial abuse scenarios that can arise include loans to family or friends that aren’t paid back, forging a signature on documents, making unauthorized withdrawals from a senior’s bank account, unauthorized changes to a credit card, or obtaining a signature for a will or power of attorney through deception or coercion.
If you have concerns about an isolated elderly person living alone and at risk, or you believe that a lawyer or representative is missing a Power of Attorney, you can report this to the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee at www.trustee.bc.ca/Pages/default.aspx.