In addition to the unforgivable incidents of physical, sexual, verbal, psychological and emotional abuse that can be inflicted on the elderly, including residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, theft and financial exploitation are also unforgiveable offenses that can be committed against the elderly. Theft of money, jewelry and other valuable items is a serious breach of trust in particular when it is a family member, caregiver, medical professional, nursing home staffer, or someone else entrusted with the care and well-being of another.
In a recent, sad case out of Des Moines, Iowa, an 88 year old man, who has since passed away, was the victim of an egregious financial exploitation at the hands of a caregiver who he trusted to take good care of him. The elderly man, as reported in the Des Moines Register newspaper, was a frugal man throughout his life. He served his country in World War II. In his older age he went under the care of a woman who eventually stole, according to the article, “hundreds of thousands of dollars” out of the man’s savings. The allegations have prompted a serious discussion about the protections of the elderly, including those in nursing homes, from financial exploitation in addition to the commonly heard physical and mental abuses.
According to the report, citing studies, in the state of Iowa there is at least an estimated $2.6 billion per year in financial theft perpetrated on seniors, and that 10% of financial victims resort to Medicaid after their money is stolen. Iowa passed two laws in the last year that legally defines the act of elder abuse and includes in that definition “financial exploitation,” give caregivers or loved ones the ability to file with a court to intervene and stop guardianship by an alleged abuser, and to strengthen enforcement of power of attorney contracts. Power of attorney contracts, as many know, are documents that give over one’s legal decisions to another, usually in the event that the first person is unable to make decisions for themselves to do physical or mental inhibitions.
A power of attorney can be easily abused by the person receiving that power, as they are equipped to make a multitude of decisions, including related to finances, on behalf of another. This makes it quite easy for the person entrusted with those powers to take money from the person on whose behalf they make decisions. Such seems to be the allegation in the above mentioned case – that the caregiver abused the powers of attorney granted by the 88 year old, and took his money. And as to the eligibility to file with a court for intervention, this is seemingly an improvement given that in the case of the 88 year old victim, the state department of health and other relevant agencies could not do anything because only the victim’s friends tried to intervene, and could not do anything under the law given they were not family members. Now people beyond family can intervene.
The perpetrator here will be sentenced for theft and could go to jail for up to 10 years and pay $10,000 in financial penalties. So while shew as obviously charged criminally, critics of the new state laws take issue with the fact that they do not provide for better criminal penalties in addition to the civil options with the courts as specifically applied to elder abuse and exploitation. So while these laws are an improvement, there is also a long path to go in Iowa to protect elders against abuse and neglect that includes financial theft.
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