Why You Should Be Concerned About Changes to a Will
According to Fidelity, a will is “a legal document that coordinates the distribution of your assets after death.” The will specifies who will carry out the distribution of the assets, who will receive the assets, and how they will receive them. Most people work with an attorney at various points in their life to draft a will that fits their wishes for asset distribution after they are gone. Sudden changes to a will are cause for suspicion and concern.
Changes to an Elder’s Power of Attorney
The Nursing Home Abuse Guide defines the power of attorney, or letter of attorney, as “an authorization in writing to act on another individual’s behalf if the individual is incapable or unwilling.” If a family member or other person holds a power of attorney for the elder, this person can make decisions on behalf of the elder in specified legal and financial situations. This power should be entrusted to a trustworthy and capable individual. If you suspect a change to the elder’s power of attorney puts it in the hands of someone untrustworthy or incapable, you should investigate and act to protect the elder.
What Is Elder Financial Abuse?
An elder may have made the changes to his/her will or power of attorney because of his/her shifting preferences. However, if the elder was deceived, coerced, manipulated, or influenced to sign the will or change their power of attorney, this is a form of financial abuse.
Financial abuse, or financial exploitation, is “improperly or illegally using another individual’s funds, assets, or property,” according to the Nursing Home Abuse Guide. Changing the victim’s will to benefit the abuser or fraudulently changing obtaining a power of attorney are both forms of financial abuse.
Any nursing home patient is susceptible to elder abuse, regardless of their mental/physical health, familial involvement, and level of supervision. However, according to the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, the following factors increase the risk of victimization:
- Physical/mental disability
- Lack of familiarity with financial matters
Financial abuse is commonly committed by people who care for or have control over a nursing home resident such as family members, children, close friends, and facility caregivers. People who wish to prey on the elderly may become caregivers to gain access to the patient.
Other Forms of Elderly Financial Abuse
Coercing/manipulating an elder into changing their will or power of attorney are two forms of financial abuse. Other types of financial abuse include:
- Stealing money or objects from the elder
- Forging the elder’s signature on checks or documents
- Cashing a check without the elder’s permission or authorization
Financial abuse is often present when there is also physical or sexual abuse. If you suspect another type of abuse, you should check if financial abuse is also occurring.
Reasons to Report Financial Abuse of the Elderly Cases
Changes in an elder’s will or their power of attorney can complicate financial and legal proceedings and result in the elder’s financial and legal wishes not being carried out correctly. It is essential to determine if the changes to the elder’s will or power of attorney are helpful or harmful changes. If the elder previously expressed a desire that contradicts the changes to the documents, ensure that the new changes are what he/she wants.
Financial abuse can have more than just economic consequences. According to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, financial exploitation can result in these signs of financial abuse:
Signs of Financial Abuse
- Severe emotional distress
- Deterioration of physical health
- Loss of independence
- Shortened lifespa
Preventing Financial Abuse
Follow these tips to help prevent financial abuse of elders:
- Educate yourself on the warning signs
- Establish a team approach for taking care of finances
- Communicate with banks and other financial institutions frequently to watch for suspicious activity
- Be wary of caregivers who try to isolate an elder
- Familiarize yourself and the elder with his/her financial and legal documents
- If the elder reports suspicious activity to you, follow up on it
- Ask the nursing home if they have trained their staff on the signs and consequences of financial abuse
Learn about financial abuse so you can recognize the warning signs and appropriately handle cases if they occur.
How to Report Elder Financial Abuse
Follow these steps if you suspect the changes to the elder’s will or power of attorney are indications of financial abuse:
- If a nursing home worker committed the abuse, report the incident(s) to the manager of the nursing home. Be prepared to take further action if the facility manager does not take steps to remediate the situation.
- Reach out to your county’s Adult Protection Service’s office. In New Jersey, you can find this on the Department of Human Services website. In New Jersey, you can also file a complaint with the Office of the Ombudsman For the Institutionalized Elderly.
- Research your state’s laws. Laws include the definition of financial exploitations, reporting mandates, criminal sanctions, and guidance.
- If you believe that the changes in the will or power of attorney were the result of abuse, we suggest having a discussion with one of our attorneys. In New Jersey, we recommend calling Gartenberg Howard at (201) 488-4644.
Your case will be stronger if you can show that the elder was coerced or manipulated or is the victim of theft. If the elder was coerced with regards to a contract or will, talk to one of our lawyers about whether the document can be voided.
Free Case Evaluation
For a case evaluation by an experienced Howard Law nursing home abuse specialists, call (201) 488-4644 or fill out the form below.