Elder abuse: Early prevention is key, notaries say

"If you think someone is misappropriating your funds, speak up:” Kelowna notary Tarja McLean.

Elder abuse

In honour of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, BC Notaries are cautioning seniors and seniors’ advocates to be vigilant for signs of elder abuse.

With Elder Abuse Day taking place on Wednesday, provincial notaries took the opportunity to launch a public awareness campaign on the issue.

They say elder abuse comes in a variety of forms, not all of which are immediately obvious.

While suspicious injuries are often telltale signs of physical violence, emotional manipulation and financial abuse are often more difficult to spot.

Tarja McLean says that as a Kelowna notary, one of the kinds of elder abuse that she tends to notice is financial abuse, perhaps most obviously evident during Power of Attorney proceedings.

“We don’t necessarily see the abuse as it happens, but I often do see it when family members or acquaintances are trying to obtain Power of Attorney to look after an elderly person’s finances,” said McLean.

“Sometimes children will be added to their parents’ property titles in order to gain control of the property.”

McLean says that protecting seniors often requires notaries to ask the right questions in the right manner.

“When a client comes in to set up any of these documents, I meet with the client alone so that no one else might try to influence them,’ she explained.

“We have conversations to confirm that the client is of sound mind and that drafting a Power of Attorney or other legal document is actually their wish, not someone else’s.”

Notaries often gauge reasons for setting up Power of Attorney documents, as the presence of dementia or a change in health can trigger a legitimate concern regarding assets and liabilities.

However, McLean notes that when forming a Power of Attorney agreement, trust is key.

“(Your Power of Attorney representative) has to be someone you trust explicitly. The person you appoint should be in a good financial situation,” she said.

“It’s like handing over the keys to everything you own. You have to be comfortable knowing that the person won’t abuse that authority, and if there are any concerns at all, it shouldn’t be done.”

But Power of Attorney issues are just one manner in which seniors can fall victim to financial abuse.

McLean said forged signatures, loans that aren’t paid back and unauthorized credit card transactions are all telltale signs of abuse.

McLean said BC Notaries caution friends, family, physicians, and bank staff to pay attention for signs of other kinds of abuse, such as unexplained bruises or cuts or signs of emotional manipulation such as a profound sense of powerlessness.

McLean says that knowing how to spot unusual situations—and knowing when to speak up—is paramount to protecting seniors from elder abuse.

“Sometimes, when abuse is happening, people don’t want to upset the family—or maybe there’s just one child forcing the senior to do things, and the senior just doesn’t want to cause a problem,” she noted.

“If you’re concerned about elder abuse, talk to a lawyer or notary. If you think someone is misappropriating your funds, speak up.”

She also recommends that all citizens establish a will or a Power of Attorney agreement early on.

“You don’t have to be a senior to do it. None of us know how long we’ve got. Everyone should have a will, no matter their age.”