September 1, 2013
By Andrea Petrie
She was in her late 80s, frail and no longer able to maintain the home she and her late husband had built and in which they had raised their three children. So when her son suggested she sell up, give him the proceeds and move in with his family for the rest of her days, it seemed like an ideal solution.
Then their relationship soured and so, too, did his promise to provide lifelong care. And he refused to hand back any of the hundreds of thousands of dollars she had given him so she could find somewhere else to live.
Scenarios like this are becoming more common, according to Seniors Rights Victoria manager Jenny Blakey. Of all the cases her organisation handled in the 2012-13 financial year, 678 related to elder financial abuse, when someone known and trusted by an older person took advantage of them for financial gain.
''Financial abuse is one of the most common types of elder abuse that we see, making up for about 40 per cent of cases," Ms Blakey said.
"It's increasing, too, just by virtue of the fact that the population is ageing and because most elderly people are wealthier in terms of owning their homes and having more assets than earlier generations.''
She said that because it was getting harder for younger people to afford homes of their own, and many were facing other financial difficulties, some people wanted access to the wealth of older people in their lives now, rather than waiting for a possible inheritance.
The exchange of assets in return for care, for example, had the potential to get particularly complicated, she said.
''For most families it's a good arrangement and it works well because most families really do care for one another and look out for each other's interests as best they can,'' she said. ''And it can be done with good intentions, but things can and do go wrong for various reasons and those are the cases we tend to see.''
In some cases, elderly people have moved in with their children and clashed with their son or daughter, or their son or daughter's partner or children, Ms Blakey said.
Problems have also arisen in instances where money has been lent in exchange for care and when the arrangement has not worked out and the elderly person wanted to leave, they struggled to get their money back. Because they might have signed over power of attorney, some elderly people believe there is nothing they can do.
''There's been situations where money from the older person has been gambled away and they only realised when the bank seized the home of the person who has been caring for them, where they were also living, so they've ended up in their late 80s or early 90s homeless,'' Ms Blakey said.
And with divorce relatively common these days, many older people have had to demonstrate their claim on properties belonging to one of their adult children, where they have been living, if the house has to be sold or formed part of a financial settlement. A booklet created by Seniors Rights Victoria, Care for your assets: money, ageing and family, provides advice on the possible personal and legal outcomes of various scenarios, including for anyone considering selling their home and giving the money to someone who has agreed to care for them, or who is moving in with a relative.
■For more information visit seniorsrights.org.au or call 1300 368 821.
SOURCE: The Brisbane Times, au
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