The recent World Elder Abuse Awareness Day gave the NSW Law Society the opportunity to put elder abuse at the top of the agenda. In the context of an aging Australian population and the World Health Organisation reporting that elder abuse is on the rise – a report by the Law Reform Commission has found that emotional and financial abuse are two of the most common forms of abuse. Financial abuse can include stealing money from the elderly, incurring bills for which an older person is responsible, abusing power of attorney arrangements or forcing someone to sign a will or contract.
The Law Reform Commission has therefore made 43 recommendations that cover a range of fields including:
• Improved responses to elder abuse in residential aged care;
• Building trust and confidence in enduring documents as important advanced planning tools;
• Protecting older people when ‘assets for care’ arrangements go wrong;
• Better succession planning across the self-managed superannuation sector;
• Banks and financial institutions protecting vulnerable customers from abuse;
• Enhanced employment screening of care workers.
Powers of Attorney
The Commission has recognised that Enduring Powers of Attorney can be a vital document for succession planning and for protecting an older person with diminishing decision-making capacity to protect themselves from fraud and abuse. However, they can also be used as a tool to facilitate abuse by the attorney. The Law Reform Commission has made recommendations to adopt nationally consistent safeguards to, among other things, giving tribunals the power to award compensation when duties are breached.
Wills are seen by the Commission as important family, social, economic and legal documents. Lawyers play an important role in supporting clients in making their wills and explaining the content of wills and it effect.
Pressuring someone to make or change their will may, in some cases, be financial abuse. The Law Reform Commission recommends that work needs to be done in this space to improve lawyers and financial advisers understanding of the potential risks for older people. Also the dangers associated with ‘do-it-yourself’ wills which are prone to be incorrectly utilised.
Author: Shannon Bock
This article is general information only and should not be relied on without obtaining further specific information.