Over 8 million older Americans receive care at home or in facilities by strangers. Some caregivers are trained and managed by home health care agencies. Others are hired privately in an effort to save money. Privately hired caregivers may charge as little as $12 or $14 per hour. Caregivers hired through an agency may be as much as $18 to $30 per hour. The difference is very real.
Even more real is the danger posed by many caregivers who seek to take financial advantage. Retired emeritus professor John Wilson (not his real name) needed supplemental care in his life care community. He came to rely upon and trust a caregiver who was with him 40 hours per week. His trust was misplaced.
Over the period of two months, she used his credit card, had him sign checks made out to her for thousands of dollars, and forged his signature on other checks to pay for items that she purchased. In a short time, losses exceeded $60,000.
Professor Wilson was fortunate in that his care and finances were being monitored. The caregiver was fired, the agency reimbursed a portion of the funds, and other funds were recovered by other means. All estimates are that millions of dependent older Americans are victimized by this form of financial abuse every year.
To address, to reduce the possibility of financial elder abuse, much greater care must be taken when older Americans identify “attorneys in fact” when they sign Durable Powers of Attorney and when they choose successor trustees for their revocable trusts. Too few understand that individuals given such powers are in a position to misappropriate finances and otherwise take financial advantage. “A great disservice is done by online trust creators, such as LegalZoom,” warns Palo Alto attorney Mark Gerson Gilfix, “because they offer no counseling or effectively conveyed warnings about the need for an extremely conscientious and responsible person to serve in these roles.
Financial elder abuse is a plague that shows no signs of abating. Great care must be taken in choosing private caregivers, in particular, and carefully monitoring the financial affairs of vulnerable elders.