Equity Trustees: Elder abuse – Planners need to recognise the warning signs

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Changes in your elderly client’s personality, an indication that the client is becoming increasingly reliant on others, or seeing other people increasingly speaking on behalf of your elderly client and not wanting you to contact them, are all warning signs that elder abuse could be occurring, says Anna Hacker, National Manager – Estate Planning at Equity Trustees

According to statistics published by Alzheimers Australia, currently there are more than 340,000 Australians with dementia and this will rise to around 900,000 by 2050. On average symptoms of dementia are noticed by families three years before a firm diagnosis is made.

“Financial Advisers are in an ideal position to recognise and flag elder abuse incidence in their client base, particularly in the case of long standing clients where there has been years – or decades – of a relationship in place,” Ms Hacker says.

“Those who are in the early stage of dementia are particularly vulnerable to elder abuse. It goes beyond just forgetting things, although this can also be an early indication.”

Ms Hacker warns advisers to be aware of the “Noddy syndrome”.

“An important issue for advisers to be across is the Noddy syndrome as described by Dr John Lloyd, a consultant neuropsychiatrist with expertise in the care of the elderly, in the case of Nicholson v Knaggs [2009] VSC 64 where elderly people will just agree to whatever is suggested as they don’t want to cause problems or fuss.

“For example, if a family member calls and asks for a change in the financial strategy, and you make that change and present it to the client, it is important to be mindful of how it is presented to the client.

“It can put elderly clients in a position where they need to rock the apple cart and go against the wishes of their close relatives if they object to the change.

“This is a difficult position for most people, even in ordinary circumstances. But in the case of vulnerable elderly people, especially those in the early stages of dementia, they are likely to just nod and agree, rather than create a fuss.

“One way of dealing with this issue, is not say ‘I was told you wanted to do x’ but instead encourage the client to tell you what they want. Never present the change as a fait accompli.

“If you have any concerns, it is very important to have thorough file notes with as much information as possible recorded in the client’s own words.

“If there is any question in an advisers mind as to a client’s capacity, proof of lack of capacity will be required. If the client has an attorney in place, an adviser can deal with the attorney. If there is no attorney, it is a complicated situation.

“For this reason you should also ensure that all of your clients have adequate estate plans in place, so that no matter what happens in the future there will be a legal representative that can be approached.”

Ms Hacker says advisers need to be mindful of how they deal with the relatives of elderly clients.

“It is important to be sure that you actually have the authority to deal with the relatives. If you do have the authority, it is important to recognise whether the relatives acting in their own best interests, or in the best interests of you elderly client.”

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Trusted since 1888, Equity Trustees Limited helps with the financial and emotional challenges of preserving, growing and transitioning wealth between generations. It provides a range of financial services to corporate and private clients including Wealth and Asset Management, Estate Planning and Administration, Philanthropy, Superannuation, Aged Care Advice and Placement.

Equity Trustees is a publicly listed company on the Australian Securities Exchange (ASX: EQT) with offices in Melbourne, Kew, Sydney, Brisbane and Perth.

For more information:

Anna Hacker
National Manager, Estate Planning
03 8623 5275 / 0433 138 004

Alicia Patterson
Senior Manager – Marketing & Communications
03 8623 5396 / 0403 172 024