Financial abuse of the elderly common and unacceptable

Financial abuse is one of the more prevalent forms of elder abuse in New Zealand. Photo: Getty...
Financial abuse is one of the more prevalent forms of elder abuse in New Zealand. Photo: Getty Images
Friday, June 15 marks World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Marie Bennett  looks at the all-too-common financial abuse of the elderly. 

Have you thought about what you might do with your inheritance?

Buy a house? Pay off a mortgage or debt? Go on an overseas holiday? Or tuck it in the bank so you have something to leave for your children? Ha! Did you know that if your parents are still alive, you do not have an inheritance? Day after day I come across "children" who talk about their inheritance. They do not like to see their parents spend too much in case there is nothing left at the end. What about the families that fight over who is getting what, who has already had some, who does not deserve any, or will the favourite child get more? Then we have the adult children who have moved into the family home — they are providing all the care, so they should inherit it all? Has someone got undue influence over the older person? Then we have blended families. This is where older people start a new relationship. While it is great to know Mum or Dad will not be lonely anymore, (although not everyone thinks it is great), the worry is how do we stop the other family thinking they are going to get what is ours?

We have an older generation who lived through the tough times of the Depression and the war. They survived and made a vow to leave something to their children, a helping hand that they never got. If they did not have cash to pay for it, they did not get it. Sometimes they have scrimped and saved, made do and gone without so they could tuck a little bit away every week to leave something to their children. They will not listen to me when I tell them their children have more than they ever had. Then along comes Johnny. He has lost his job and cannot afford rent, and guess who has a spare room? Mum or Dad.

"I’ll just stay a little while until I get another job and get on my feet".

Ten years later Johnny is still there — not paying rent as he does not get much on the dole, and beer and smokes are so expensive.

Or, along comes Mary. She’s left her abusive husband and has nowhere else to go with her three children except back to the family home. The nest egg gets whittled away, often because of gambling, alcohol or drug issues, and before they know it the older person has lost all of their rights to make decisions for themselves.

Financial abuse is one of the more prevalent forms of elder abuse in New Zealand. Expectation of an inheritance is just one of the types of financial abuse around.

We have mishandling of Eftpos and credit cards and the excuses are amazing — I thought it was my card! Yeah, right. Like you have the same PIN?I was buying clothes for Mum — yeah, right. Mum lives in a hospital facility, but somehow needs new running shoes.

I have worked with older people who have been made homeless due to a family member using their home as collateral. I have seen an older person struggle to pay a credit card bill when they have not even used the card, and I have seen older people go without the basics of life because a family member has bled them dry.

Who gave children, and grandchildren, the right to treat our older people this way? Mum or Dad may be powerless to stop what’s happening. They do not want to lose their family and they do not want to see family members struggling. Many of them will do whatever they can to "help out", to the detriment of their own health and wellbeing. Some families are wonderful. They want to help out so they take over looking after everything. Sadly they sometimes forget to consult with their parent so the older person has no say in what’s happening.

When did we lose respect for our parents? When was it written that our older family members’ assets are ours? Remember — financial abuse is a form of elder abuse. It is not OK, and it has to stop.

- Marie Bennett is a social worker with the Elder Abuse Response Service.

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