Guest Column: Elder Abuse, a Sad but Common Phenomenon, Finally Gets Mainstream Media Attention

by Priscilla Camp, retired Elder Law Attorney

Like most people my age (74), I go to the pharmacy regularly. Recently, I passed a rack of newspapers and magazines on the way out, and came to a screeching halt. There on the front of the November issue of Consumer Reports was a cover story about Elder Abuse. Titled “Lies, Secrets, and Scams,” the article gives eight case examples and does an excellent job of educating and warning about financial abuse; it does not address physical abuse.

I recall going to my first meeting about Elder Abuse in 1980, 35 years ago

At the time, Elder Law had just begun to emerge as a distinct area of practice, and abuse was, from the beginning a primary concern for those of us in the field. As time went by, I noticed that often people who learned that I practiced Elder Law presumed that the term was interchangeable with Elder Abuse, which increasingly captured public attention and raised justified alarm.

The Consumer Reports article looks primarily at financial Elder Abuse. A common form of financial Elder Abuse is to convince an elderly person to transfer assets to the abuser. Usually, the elderly person has reached a point when he or she is easily confused and suffering some form of memory impairment. Often, the elderly person is living alone or is isolated in one way or another.

Estate planning can help prevent financial Elder Abuse if you create the documents while you still can, before you become the victim of Elder Abuse. With estate-planning documents—a revocable living trust and a power of attorney—you appoint who you want to assist you with your financial matters when you can no longer act in your own best interest. The person you appoint will have authority to help you when you need someone to watch over your financial matters. If necessary, this appointed person, exercising authority under the documents you have prepared, can take legal steps to protect you from any attempts by others to take advantage of you.

Key is to put your estate plan in place while you are healthy, making clear and confident decisions, and not acting under pressure. Whether or not you are ever the subject of financial abuse, and I hope that you are not, you will be glad that you have these important documents.

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Priscilla Camp is a founding member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and practiced Elder Law in Oakland for 32 years. Currently, she is President of the Board of Directors of Legal Assistance for Seniors, a nonprofit organization in Oakland.