A significant worry for numerous families involves safeguarding elderly parents from potential exploitation by siblings or other members of the family. Regrettably, emotional, physical, or financial abuse is more prevalent than anticipated, often arising from mixed motives and suspicions related to money matters within even the most loving families. Despite these challenges, families can successfully navigate these issues with the right approach. This article will delve into strategies for protecting parents while preserving healthy sibling relationships, addressing common issues among family members, and providing practical solutions.

  • Roshan J Mundapallil, Sowmya Lakshmi

In a widely circulated video on the internet, 89-year-old Mary George bravely shares her story. Originally from Tiruvalla, a town known for sending a significant number of expatriates to the US, Europe, and the Middle East, Mary Ammachi herself spent around 40 years as an expatriate in Kuwait. Despite her age, Mary articulately expresses her distress over her children’s unusual behaviour. Her advanced years do not impede her ability to narrate her predicament and convey her disappointment with her family’s actions.

“ As a young bride, I ventured to Kuwait at the age of 17 with my husband. Initially employed by the Kuwait Oil Company, he later transitioned to running a business supplying to KOC after retirement. For nearly a decade, he was involved in this venture until the onset of the war prompted our return. I am blessed with four children; the eldest, a daughter, has established herself in Canada. Both my eldest son and the middle child are employed in Dubai, contemplating a future settlement in America. Their children are already pursuing education in the United States. The youngest among them is a neurosurgeon in Bangalore. All are thriving in their respective pursuits, with my four grandchildren excelling in their medical careers.”

“After my husband’s passing, they essentially abandoned me, and ironically, my doctor son is at the center of it all. None of them are on speaking terms with me. Roy and Roji joined hands, deceiving me and taking all my money. Roy persuaded me to sign certain bank papers while my husband was on his deathbed. Despite warnings from others, he assured me it was merely for consolidating all NRI accounts into one. Regrettably, I believed him like a fool. After draining my finances, they forcibly expelled me from my home, and now I reside in this elderly care facility. They could have simply asked, and I would have willingly provided.” Mary Ammachi lamented.

“Earlier my daughter used to call me and now she also detached. Can you imagine, I have not seen my children past six years. I have not seen my grand children and they don’t allow them to talk to their grand children saying they will learn their mother tongue, Malayalam. They think the mix-up can ruin their ‘American’ accent. My elder son Rony, though he is a stroke survivor, comes once in a while to the old age home and see me.” In that video, Mary Ammachi detailed her plight.

In many instances, mistreatment stemmed from disputes over parental assets. Parents were either subjected to abuse for not parting with their money or abandoned after transferring property. Another aspect discussed in this narrative is ‘inheritance impatience,’ delving into the greed-driven actions of children eager to seize properties or savings.

Financial exploitation stands out as one of the most commonly recurring crimes against elders, spanning from the misuse of funds to outright embezzlement. Proximity often leads relatives to engage in financial embezzlement more frequently than professional caregivers, with some assuming they have a legal right to do so. Financial abuse encompasses fraud, forgery, deceitful property transfers, purchasing expensive items without the older person’s knowledge or permission, or restricting access to their own money. It also involves the improper use of legal arrangements, such as powers of attorney.

Pay attention to the red flags of financial abuse, even if a family member is the perpetrator. Ignoring the signs today may offer little comfort later when your parents’ hard-earned resources are drained, leaving you in a difficult situation. Your parents dedicated years to saving for retirement; assist them in safeguarding their assets to steer clear of financial instability in their later years.

Now, let’s explore additional instances of elder abuse by relatives that have come to our attention. In the first case, a 78-year-old lady with severe arthritis limiting her mobility and self-care abilities, resides with her son, who grapples with bipolar disorder and a chronic gambling problem. In this case, the abuse is perpetrated by the woman’s own son, who consistently assaults her, demanding money for alcohol and frequently misappropriating her pension without her consent.

Sumitra, a 72-year-old retiree from the Accountant General’s office, resided alone in her own home. Dealing with mild respiratory illness, obesity, and excessive alcohol consumption, she faced isolation from most relatives due to her suspicious and abusive nature. The only visitor, a former colleague, consistently harassed her, urging to be named the beneficiary of her will and seeking control over her financial affairs. In this case the perpetrator is a known person, a colleague.

In another tale, a 75-year-old widow with moderate dementia lived alone in her home. Her grandson moved in, pledging assistance with daily tasks, but suspicions arose among other family members about potential financial exploitation when they noticed his sudden possession of expensive watches. By the time intervention occurred, the grandson had embezzled a considerable amount for luxury purchases.

We recently received a distress call from Ranjana who lives in Philadelphia who was convinced that her younger brother and wife was ‘stealing’ from their parents. He exerted total control over their elderly parents, one of whom had dementia. The 84-year-old retired Navy Commodore, unable to maintain his affairs, had appointed his son as Power of Attorney, granting him full control over their finances and healthcare decisions. The daughter-in-law consistently subjects her father-in-law to verbal abuse, occasionally resorting to physical aggression out of anger. Isolating him intentionally from family and friends serves as a strategy to perpetuate the ongoing mistreatment.

As we listened to the sister’s concerns about her brother misusing their parents’ money, we inquired if she had contacted other relatives or the police. She admitted she hadn’t, explaining, “I don’t want to get my brother in trouble.” The logic behind such hesitancy remains unclear.

Ranjana’s proposed solution to the entire problem is relocating their parents to our skilled nursing home. Despite her attempts to persuade her brother, he flatly rejected the idea. Ranjana requested our intervention to talk to him, but he provided various excuses, likely to avoid parting with the pension. We also reached out to the other sister, and her response was even more surprising. She expressed disassociation from her family, revealing that she had previously urged her father, while he was still healthy, not to allow his son to stay with him. She had also advised planning for old age considering her brother’s character and the strained relationships among siblings. However, her father didn’t take them into confidence, and now she sees it as inevitable, stating, “Nothing can be done.Take it as ‘Anaebarah’. (means, fate)”

In a similar case, an elderly lady reached out, expressing distress over her grand daughter-in-law’s failure to repay a significant loan given to start a boutique. Despite sponsoring her grandson’s engineering fees and the couple obtaining bank FDs and a loan, the likelihood of her being repaid was uncertain. We suggested reporting the situation to the police, emphasising that not repaying a loan from an 80-year-old could be considered elder abuse. Concerned about her grandchildren going to jail, she hesitated to take further action, potentially risking financial turmoil.

Social isolation can amplify the risk of abuse. In the case of the Commodore, intentional isolation was a strategy to conceal abuse. In other instances, it might result from the elderly person’s clinical conditions, such as mobility issues or cognitive impairments. Regardless of the cause, social isolation severs ties with the outside world, hindering intervention and protection for an elderly person facing abuse while limiting opportunities for outsiders to offer assistance. Elder financial exploitation (EFE) stands as the prevalent type of elder abuse, encompassing the illicit misuse of elderly individuals’ finances, assets, or belongings. Those responsible for EFE may include acquaintances, friends, family members, or even strangers, such as online or offshore scammers. Perpetrators often attempt to channel the gains from EFE through various financial products and instruments, placing financial institutions at the forefront of combating this unlawful activity.

Identifying and seeking help for financial abuse can be challenging for victims, but certain red flags should not be ignored:

  1. Abrupt alterations in bank accounts, including the addition of new names to accounts and cards.
  2. Discovery of unpaid bills, letters from collection agencies, or overdue notices, despite having sufficient financial resources.
  3. Unexpected appearances of previously uninvolved relatives claiming rights to an elder’s property or possessions.
  4. Sudden asset transfers to individuals outside the family.
  5. Changes in spending habits, like a reluctance to shop or dine out.
  6. Expressing worry or stress about financial matters.

Victims may hesitate to report abuse, fearing significant consequences, such as the potential loss of independence if their primary caregiver is implicated and they are compelled into a care facility.

Take these measures to safeguard your loved one:
1. Seek legal counsel: Consult with an attorney specialising in probate law and guardianship to understand your rights, options, and the evidence needed in cases of suspected financial abuse.
2. Gather documentation: Prior to legal action or confronting family members, gather evidence of financial mishandling or other forms of abuse.
3. Host a family meeting: Communicate the financial situation transparently, assuring family members in a non-confrontational manner that the goal is to create the best environment for your parent. If voluntary agreement is unattainable, explore further steps.
4. Explore durable or financial power of attorney: This legal arrangement allows trusted individuals to manage finances, investments, and property on behalf of someone unable to handle their affairs.
5. Consider medical power of attorney: Designate a trusted adult to make health care decisions when the individual is incapable, as certified by a physician.
6. Petition for guardianship: If necessary, seek guardianship through the courts, proving the individual’s incapacity and demonstrating your suitability as a guardian. Prioritise less restrictive options first, consulting with an attorney to explore all available avenues.