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Should you bring legal action to protect an elder relative?

Most of the time when we talk estate and probate litigation, we're discussing matters that relate to probate processes and estate administration. There are times you might need to bring legal action before a person passes away, though, especially if you believe an elderly loved one is suffering from financial abuse. Financial abuse can occur when someone exerts excessive and unnecessary control over an elder's finances or if someone in a position of trust -- such as a power of attorney or court-appointed guardian -- misuses his or her position.

Good reasons exist that someone might be in a position to access and manage an older person's financial accounts. In some cases, the court might appoint someone as a guardian or power of attorney over these matters if it has been deemed that the individual is no longer capable of handling daily responsibilities or decisions. In other cases, the individual might have arranged for a caregiver or power of attorney to assist in such matters well before they became incapacitated.

Whether someone has legal authority or is just using a relationship with your loved one to gain access to finances, if you suspect something is amiss, consider consulting an estate attorney to understand what options you have for protecting your relative. Some signs that your loved one might be suffering from financial abuse can include a lack of knowledge about any financial matters when the individual is still capable of being involved in decisions or extreme isolation from other relatives.

If you bring up financial matters and your older relative seems confuse, scared or someone always tries to shut down these conversations, then it might be a sign something is wrong. The National Adult Protective Services Association says that only one in 44 cases of financial abuse of elders is ever reported, so don't be afraid to ask questions if you think things are suspicious.

Source: AARP, "How to Spot Early Warning Signs of Elder Financial Abuse," accessed Jan. 27, 2017

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