It's a sad fact that as people age, they tend to become more vulnerable to those who don't have their best interests in mind. That vulnerability increases if any mental incapacity exists due to health conditions, such as dementia or Alzheimer's.
If you have an aging family member who you begin to suspect is being taken advantage of, you may want to conduct some research to determine whether your suspicions are founded. If you discover they are, it may be appropriate to seek a conservatorship in order to protect your loved one in the future.
What you can look for
When you begin scrutinizing recent activities surrounding your family member, you may want to look for the following signs that something is amiss:
- Your loved one has recently been isolated from family and friends whether by circumstances or the design of someone else.
- A mental and/or physical incapacity may prompt your family member to enlist the aid of others who gain access to his or her home or finances. One or more of these individuals could take advantage of your loved one's need for assistance.
- You notice unusual financial transactions in your family member's accounts, items come up missing in his or her home or he or she seems to be lacking basic necessities such as adequate food and personal hygiene items.
- You may discover that another family member suddenly begins spending more time with your aging loved one. While this may be a good thing, it could also represent a warning sign that one family member's interest in another may not be altruistic. This family member may create a situation in which the elderly family member "willingly" allows access to financial accounts or authorizes withdrawals from those accounts. A look at the less than scrupulous family member's lifestyle could provide the additional clues needed to prove a suspicion.
More than likely, talking to your aging loved one about the situation may not work. He or she may be embarrassed or may not have the capacity to understand what's happening. According to the American Association of Retired Persons, only one out of every 44 cases of elderly financial abuse come to light. This situation is grossly under-reported for a variety of reasons.
What you can do
Confronting the person you believe is taking advantage of your elderly loved one may be a good first step, but you may also want to get the authorities involved. Doing so may put an end to the current problem, but it may not be enough to keep your loved one safe from someone else. To help ensure that something like this never happens again, you may want to ask a California civil court to appoint a conservator to protect your aging family member in the future.