Coping with financial abuse

Having dementia puts a person at greater risk of being exploited financially. Christina Macdonald reveals how it happened in her own family and explains the importance of keeping an eye on a person’s finances

Caring for my mum took up so much of my time that I neglected one of the most important aspects of her life – her finances. I organised her meals, her cleaning, her gardening, her carers, drove her to her appointments, took her shopping, made sure she had clean clothes and bedding… in my mind I had everything covered. Except for one thing. Making sure her financial situation was stable.

In theory, everything should have been fine with mum’s money. She had a state pension and a private pension. She didn’t spend much money. She wasn’t one for expensive items she didn’t need. She should have had a healthy bank balance and with plenty of cash in reserve for the 24-hour care she would eventually need. But things didn’t work out that way. One day, I discovered that a family relative who had offered to ‘manage’ her finances had been spending her money. For a long time, they had been making withdrawals from her account without her consent or knowledge. And I’m talking about substantial amounts. Her finances were in a mess by the time I discovered what was happening. It took months to resolve. Mum’s bank refunded some of the money but it was a struggle to get them to accept some responsibility for the fact that all of this had occurred without mum knowing anything about it.

Invaluable advice

Fortunately, I didn’t have to deal with this on my own. My good friend Monica Bradley, who runs a successful mortgage brokers, was extremely keen to help me sort things out. Moinca also had an elderly mother with dementia, whom she was looking after. I know that Monica was thinking how angry and upset she would have been if a relative had done the same thing to her mother. Abuse of trust by a family member is the worst possible thing. Monica encouraged me to speak to mum’s bank and most importantly, organise Lasting Power of Attorney for her finances while mum still had capacity, so that she would be protected in future. She gave me a lot of invaluable advice and support during a very difficult time. I realised how lucky I was to have such a good friend who not only genuinely wanted to help, but had the professional skills and experience to be able to do so. I also realised how important it is to set up Lasting Power of Attorney to be able to protect the person you love. Don’t put it off. Just get it done.

But perhaps the most important lesson from this devastating experience… trust no one. Not when it comes to money. Money can bring out the worst in people. Sadly, having dementia puts a person at greater risk of being a victim of fraud or financial wrongdoing. Friends or even members of the person’s own family can exploit them, as it may be difficult or impossible for them to manage their own affairs. According to a Financial Abuse Review published by Age UK in November 2015, those with dementia or reduced cognitive function are most at risk. The review also revealed that 50 per cent of financial abuse in the UK is by ‘adult children’. Approximately 130,000 people aged 65 and over have suffered financial abuse since turning 65, though this is considered a conservative estimate.

Another review conducted for Age UK in 2008 showed that 70 per cent of financial abuse is by a family member. A report by King’s College London and the National Centre for Social Research published in 2007 revealed that 57,000 people aged 66 and over in the UK had suffered financial abuse by a relative, friend or care worker.

Don’t think it won’t happen in your family. I never expected it to happen in mine. I trusted someone. That trust was misplaced. Trust your instincts. If you suspect wrongdoing, here’s what you can do:

 

  • Speak to the person’s bank if you suspect theft from their account
  • Cancel all debit cards immediately
  • Obtain third party access on the person’s account so that you can monitor activity
  • If theft has occurred, report the matter to the police and obtain a crime reference number for the bank, which they may require in order to investigate the matter
  • Seek advice urgently. Call the charity, Action on Elder Abuse, for advice on 080 8808 8141, or alternatively, speak to Age UK’s helpline on 0800 169 2081.

 

If you are concerned about someone abusing a Lasting Power of Attorney, it can be revoked if the person with dementia still has capacity. Contact the Office of the Public Guardian on 0300 456 0300 or by email at opg.safeguardingunit@publicguardian.gsi.gov.uk or speak to a solicitor for further advice.

 

More information
Monica Bradley Associates can help with Lasting Power of Attorney and making a will for a loved one. For advice and more information, contact Monica on 020 8652 5240 or email
monica@mbassociates.net

 

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