by Lilianne Fuller
Marlene and her husband Gerry* lived on a small pension. They were comfortable and Gerry was able to put a little money away for a rainy day. The money grew and became a sizeable nest egg that Gerry bequeathed to Marlene in his will.
After Gerry passed away, their eldest son, Marc asked Marlene for a portion of the nest egg that his father had told him about. He explained that he needed the money but promised to pay it back with interest. Marlene was hesitant but after some serious persuading, she agreed to give him the money. Eight months passed and Marlene’s son still hadn’t paid it back. After a few unanswered phone calls, her son’s fiancé called to say they were having financial trouble and couldn’t repay the money. And until they could pay, they wanted no contact with Marlene, so could she please stop calling.
Financial abuse is one of the most insidious forms of elder abuse and it has three facets: monetary, property and legal. Many people think that financial abuse is a scammer who comes to the door to perform work and then absconds with the money. But unfortunately, most seniors are more likely to be abused by a family member. In a 2017 Vancity report, 55 percent of seniors said they had a family member pressure them into giving them money and not repaying it.
Property and legal abuse occur when there is an inappropriate use of a senior’s property. The following scenario happened to a couple in Vancouver. Their son had badgered them into selling the house to him for a dollar. He then stopped mowing the lawn and shovelling the walk. He proposed that he could install a suite in the basement where his parents could live. However, six months later, the house was sold and now the couple are uncertain as to what their future holds.
Sometimes a family member will offer to ‘help’ the parent guard their estate against costly probate fees by putting them on title and/or be given exclusive Power of Attorney. Sometimes they will request to be the sole beneficiary on a Tax-Free Savings Account or RRIF.
Financial abuse however, is not always perpetrated by a family member. Annie, who had no close relatives was becoming frail and needed personal care. She engaged a care aid from a local home support company. Brigitte was assigned to her and, within months, had convinced Annie that she loved her. She encouraged Annie to hire her privately so that she could visit every day. Shortly after that, she urged Annie to change her will and give her Power of Attorney. Kathy, a friend, became suspicious when she noted the control that Brigitte exerted over Annie. When she expressed her concerns, Annie insisted that Brigitte loved her and would never harm her. Unconvinced, Kathy went to police and was told that in the case of a ‘love’ relationship, their hands were tied. Within a year, Annie suffered a suspicious fall and a month later she passed away. In probate, it was found that the small Richmond apartment she owned was so heavily mortgaged there was nothing left. In the end, she also learned the truth that Brigitte really didn’t love her and since Annie was broke, had no further use of her.
The above scenario does not come as a surprise to Delta Optimist columnist, ML Burke. Burke is an executive member of the Delta Seniors Planning Team and past member of the Council of Advisors to the BC Seniors Advocate. In her various roles, she has heard many similar stories. “Often the victim believes their victimizer cares for them. It’s also true that if the situation is considered a love relationship, platonic or otherwise, the police are powerless to step in,” she said. She suggested that in a case like this, a senior have an independent and trusted second person to also hold Power of Attorney. “The poor woman died from a broken hip and a broken heart as well,” she said.
Seniors can also protect themselves by getting independent advice before signing any document especially those pertaining to the home or property. Burke suggests that if a person feels they are being victimized, there is a place they can turn. “The Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) is a safe confidential place for older adults and those who care about them to talk to someone about situations they feel they are being abused or mistreated. They can receive information about elder abuse prevention as well,” she said. SAIL can be reached toll free at 1-866-437-1940 or 604-437-1940 in the Lower Mainland.
**Some names have been changed for anonymity