Elder abuse is a growing area of concern among legal, medical and social work professionals. As individuals age, they often become vulnerable to abuse including subtle abuse in the form of financial manipulation by family members or caregivers. Even if the elder is aware of the abuse, there may be little he or she can do to stop it from happening. The experienced lawyers at McLarty Wolf can assist whether you are an adult in need of protection or a family or friend concerned about a loved one by serving clients in these practice areas:
What Constitutes Elder Abuse?
The Royal Canadian Mounted Police note that elder abuse can include any mistreatment — including neglect or violence — of an older adult living in a private home or a senior living institution.
Typically, elder abuse is perpetrated by caretakers, including adult children, spouses, friends, other family members or hired professionals. However, crimes related to elder abuse also can be committed by people who are not in a caretaking role for a senior adult.
Individuals who interact frequently with older adults — including friends, neighbors, family members, doctors, social workers and bankers — often are in a position for reporting elder abuse.
The signs can include sudden changes in appearance or behavior, visible physical injuries, or a rapid change in finances. In addition, seniors who are left alone for long periods of time or frequently have verbal disputes with a caretaker may be victims of elder abuse.
In some cases, senior adults may tell someone that they are being abused.
When an individual becomes mentally incapable of managing his or her healthcare and financial affairs, either as a result of aging or perhaps from an accident or illness, the Court may appoint a person to protect the interests of and make decisions on behalf of that individual. Sometimes people think of this person as the Legal Guardian of the mentally incapable person, however, in British Columbia the legal term for the person appointed to manage the affairs of the mentally incapable adult is called a Committee.
In many cases, it is necessary to secure a legal committeeship, also known as a guardianship, over a family member. Such committees are appointed under the Patients Property Act and are typically a family member. If no family member can serve as committee, the Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) will assume that role. (The PGT is also automatically appointed statutory property guardian (similar to a committee) under the Adult Guardianship Act of an adult for whom a certificate of incapability has been issued by certain government designated medical professionals.) Committees may be appointed to make financial and legal decisions and/or to make personal care and health care decisions.
The two types of committee are:
- Committee of the estate, which gives the committee authority over financial, business and legal decisions.
- Committee of the person, which relates only to health and medical
If you are concerned about the decision-making ability of a family member and wish to be given the legal authority to manage the affairs of your loved one, it is important to speak to a B.C. Committeeship lawyer.
Elder Abuse Prevention
Elder abuse can be devastating to individuals and their families. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, elder abuse includes physical, sexual, and emotional abuse. The organization states that neglect and exploitation of elderly people occur in 1 out of every 10 seniors who are over the age of 60. Prevention is essential.
To prevent the occurrence of elderly abuse, it is important to ensure that any type of negative behavior is monitored and, whenever possible, documented extensively to create a paper trail.Assisted living and long term residential care homes, for example, should have active methods in place for reporting such incidents. It is also important to educate family members and seniors about what constitutes as abuse, such as evidence of bruising, missing meals, or unusual patterns of financial expenditures/transfers.
All individuals can follow the steps below to minimize the risks of elder abuse:
- Keep seniors active with regular exercise.
- Avoid isolating seniors, as this can create loneliness that increases the risk of neglect and abuse.
- Participate and engage in religious and community activities.
- Ensure that the family knows the people who are visiting or living with the seniors. Finances should be managed by an individual trusted by all family members.
- Take action of situations where seniors are worried, afraid, or combative as there are often underlying reasons for such behaviors.
How Big is the Problem of Elder Abuse
Elder abuse itself does not technically qualify as a crime, but many types of mistreatment against seniors — including violence and theft of resources — are crimes. How significant has the problem become in British Columbia and Canada?
Authorities say elder abuse is on the rise in Canada, even with many cases going unreported.
According to Statistics Canada, seniors over the age of 65 make up about 17 percent of the population. As the senior population continues to grow, elder abuse has become more prevalent. Approximately 4 to 10 percent of seniors are thought to suffer abuse, but only about a fifth of those cases are reported to an individual who is in a position to assist.
Cases of Abuse
Across Vancouver and British Columbia, the media report on numerous cases of elder abuse each year.
In June 2016, a 44-year-old man allegedly visited the home of his 78-year-old mother multiple times per day, demanding money for alcohol and drugs. On one occasion, the man threatened to physically hurt his mother if she didn’t give him money.
Fortunately, the woman locked herself in a room, and the son was criminally charged.
In December, an 85-year-old woman confronted her 56-year-old son when she smelled chemicals coming from downstairs. After threatening his mother, the son allegedly punched her, pushed her on the basement floor and kicked her.
After noticing the injuries, a family member reported the incident. Police investigated and uncovered alleged abuse — both physical and verbal — that stretched back more than 20 years.
Also in June, a 49-year-old woman was charged with the alleged theft of almost $270,000 from the bank account of a senior woman for whom she provided care.
The 91-year-old woman, of Coquitlam, reported the theft and said hundreds of thousands of dollars had disappeared from her bank account. Using bank surveillance images and the victim’s help, police identified the suspect.
In each case, a trusted caregiver — whether a family member or a professional — allegedly exploited or abused older, often helpless, individuals.
Cases We Handle
- Financial abuse
- Patients Property Act disputes
- Committeeship applications
- Disputes involving representatives pursuant to Representation Agreements
- Disputes involving attorneys pursuant to Powers of Attorney
Vancouver Representation Agreements
The Representation Agreement Act  provides a procedure for an individual to appoint someone as their legal representative to handle routine financial matters, make or assist with legal, personal and health care decisions in anticipation of the time when they are will need help with or will be unable to make those decisions on their own.
The Act does not allow for the appointment of a person who is paid to provide personal or health care or who is an employee of a facility providing personal or health care unless the individual appointed is also a child, parent or spouse. Unless the named person is a spouse, the representation agreement may consider naming another person as a “monitor” to help ensure that the representative lives up to his or her duties.
Responsibilities of Vancouver Representatives
The specific duties of the representative are set forth under the terms of the agreement and can include:
- Wishes of the Individual: The representative must follow the wishes or the instructions of the individual if it is reasonable to do so.
- Honest: The representative must act honestly and in good faith and exercise the care, diligence and skill of a reasonably prudent person.
- Separate Money: The representative must keep their money and property separate from those of the individual and keep accounts and records of the individuals finances.
Revoking the Agreement
The Representation Agreement Act sets out the way the representation agreement can be cancelled or changed. To cancel the agreement, if a person is capable, they must deliver a written notice of the revocation to each person appointed as a representative, alternate representative or monitor. That written notice must be delivered in accordance with the regulation by delivering by registered mail, leaving a copy of the notice with the person or at their address with an adult person who resides with the person to be notified.
Power of Attorney
A “Power of Attorney” is a legal document through which one person, known as “the donor”, authorizes a second person, known as “the attorney”, to act on their behalf. An individual named in a Power of Attorney has a legal duty to follow the direction of the person giving the authority, or to act as a fiduciary if the person can no longer direct them. Unlike a Representation Agreement which can confer upon the representative the power to make an individual’s personal care and healthcare decisions, the power of attorney can only authorize the attorney to make financial and legal decisions on behalf of the donor.
If the named attorney abuses the terms of a Power of Attorney, the abuse can be stopped by revoking the document, generally where the donor still has legal capacity. Often times this process requires the assistance of a lawyer and the courts to recover money, property or other assets under the terms of the Power of Attorney Act. If the donor is no longer capable, a concerned person can apply to Court to be appointed committee of the adult pursuant to the Patients Property Act (which appointment necessarily revokes the Power of Attorney) or make a report to the PGT that an attorney is abusing his or her power and the PGT is required to review that report and conduct an investigation, apply to Court to revoke the power or seek other relief or advise the concerned person to make his or her own application to Court to seek similar relief.
Contact a Vancouver Elder Abuse Lawyer
If you are concerned about protecting the interests of a friend or family member who is unable to make important financial or medical decisions, or if a loved one is, or is suspected to be, the victim of financial elder abuse, it is important to contact a Vancouver lawyer as soon as possible. To discuss your case with one of our lawyers, call our office today at 604-688-9542 or send us an email.