Are there worse crimes? Of course. Sexual and physical abuse come to mind. But in this article the focus is financial exploitation.
Here’s a headline, ripped from an August 26, 2012 Seattle Post Intelligencer (PI) article: “Son, wife fleeced dementia-stricken mom.” Here’s the good news – the son, Ivan Ljunghammar, and his wife, Deborah Jean, have been charged with felony first-degree theft. Here’s the bad news – this pair allegedly stole close to $513,000 dollars from Ivan’s 82-year old mother, facilitated by him being awarded control over his mother’s finances in 2007.
The victim and her husband (deceased) were very careful throughout their lives to make sure they had sufficient funds for when they truly would need them. They did an amazing job and as it turned out, those funds were needed. I guess her son and daughter-in-law figured they needed the money more. Added to that atrocity, the daughter-in-law knowingly hired a convicted felon to care for her mother-in-law. Who does that? The morally corrupt – that’s who. But I digress.
A desire for the parents’ estate compromises morality.
Although it’s true that strangers rob from vulnerable adults, family members do it more often than you can – or would care to – know. It’s the vulnerable adult with dementia who is most often targeted by strangers and family alike, and the family members who “legally” have access to mom and dad’s funds are the most hideous criminals. This family member becomes the Power of Attorney over finances and/or care needs for their mom and then abuse that “Power” by assuring mom that all is well and that she need not worry herself, all the while moving money away from mom’s accounts into their own.
Some financial exploitation is more subtle.
Moving mom or dad out of their current assisted living facility, in which the parents initially had carefully chosen to live, to a facility that is less expensive so that more money remains after mom and dad die. Holding back the daily care a compromised adult may need. Providing a bare minimum of personal belongings and clothing for their loved one – again, for the same reason. Do I sound harsh and judgmental? Gosh, I hope so. My work with the older population for the past 12 years has created a jaded view of how some family members respond to the needs of their parents. Thank goodness the percentage of good and loving family is greater than that of the bad and corrupt – but that does little towards softening the effects of a vulnerable adult’s emptied bank account when they need it most.
It’s unfortunate that media headlines are the primary thing that exposes elder fraud.
I know I personally don’t write about elder fraud enough in this Blog. My article, Financial fraud against the elderly: it’s a family affair, does draw attention to some of the examples I’ve addressed in this Blog entry, and I guess the more sensational occurrences of elder fraud will make this crime more visible. But I think the bottom line is that I want the impossible. I want our elders to be respected, not exploited, and I really want family members to grow a conscience.