Stanley, 73 years old, recently passed away. He never married or had any children. Stanley lived alone in his home and was self-sufficient until his health began to decline last year. Not wishing to burden his nieces and nephews, Stanley took it upon himself to hire a home health aide to come to his home and care for him.
The pandemic restrictions prevented his niece, Cathy, with whom he had always had a close relationship, from visiting him. However, she called often. She even made an effort to see him but was only allowed window visits by the care worker and never provided the opportunity for in-person visits before his death. Cathy had no idea her uncle was being neglected and abused.
To prevent a similar scenario from happening to you or someone you love, here's what you should know.
What Is Elder Abuse?
Abuse can happen to any older adult but often affects those who are dependent on others for help with daily activities. Neglect occurs when the caregiver does not try to respond to the older adult's needs. It may include physical, emotional, and social needs. It can also include withholding food, medications, or access to health care.
Emotional abuse, sometimes called psychological abuse, can include a caregiver saying hurtful words, yelling, threatening, or repeatedly ignoring the older adult. Keeping that person from seeing close friends and relatives is another form of emotional abuse.
Financial abuse is becoming a widespread and hard-to-detect issue. Financial neglect occurs when an older adult's financial responsibilities such as paying rent or mortgage, medical expenses or insurance, utility bills, or property taxes are ignored, and the person's bills are not paid.
Financial exploitation is the misuse, mismanagement, or exploitation of property, belongings, or assets. This includes using an older adult's assets without consent, under false pretense, or through intimidation and/or manipulation.
Cathy believes her uncle Stanley suffered all of this during the last year of his life and regrets not stepping in to prevent it. Cathy discovered after his death that he was financially exploited by his care worker, who had obtained a power of attorney over Stanley's health care and finances while he was alive. The care worker had also convinced him to execute a will leaving her all of his estate upon his death.
What Documents Can You Include in Your or Your Loved One's Estate Planning To Prevent Elder Abuse?
Having a talk about aging or death with a parent or older family member is never easy. Cathy failed to do so and found herself in a desperate situation with no authority to step in and assist her uncle when needed help. You can avoid this by planning ahead.
A foundational estate plan should include these five essential legal estate planning documents.
- Last Will and Testament: Your last will and testament allow you to nominate a person you trust to serve as your personal representative and will enable you to express your wishes about how you want your assets distributed after you die. Your personal representative will be in charge of managing your estate and carrying out your directions in distributing your assets. If you die without a Will, the court will appoint a personal representative for you, and state law will dictate how your assets are distributed.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Finances: A durable power of attorney is a document that appoints an individual to act as your agent. This person will handle your legal and financial decisions when you no longer have the capacity to do so.
- Durable Power of Attorney for Health Care: A power of attorney for health care is very common. It gives an agent the ability to make health-related decisions on your behalf when you are no longer able to communicate with your doctor. This document may include what type of health care and medications a person will receive.
- Advance Health Care Directive: This document would go into effect when you can no longer communicate with your doctors about your care and end-of-life decisions. It outlines your wishes about life-sustaining medical treatment if you are terminally ill or permanently unconscious.
- Cremation Directive: This document sets forth your burial and funeral choices which guide your loved ones regarding your end-of-life wishes.
Call Our Estate Planning Team Today
While nobody wants to think about death or disability, establishing an estate plan is one of the most important steps you can take to protect yourself and your loved ones. Proper estate planning puts you in charge of choosing who you trust to care for you while you're alive but no longer able to on your own. Had Stanley prepared an estate plan, Cathy or another trusted individual would have had the right to step in and could have prevented the abuse.
Failure to develop and document an estate plan cedes control over your assets and end-of-life decisions to others. A good estate plan is more than just a collection of documents. It's a roadmap for how you wish to be cared for during your life. It also dictates your assets' disposition upon your death. Most significantly, it's the result of an understanding of all of your options.
Make sure you avoid making common mistakes like Stanley, who did not plan. Create a plan now that allows you to choose who you trust to act as your agent if you are too ill to make your own health care and financial decisions. Also, be sure to create an estate plan that enables you to pass your estate to your heirs exactly the way you want. Call us today so we can assist you in creating the right plan for you.