On this World Elder Abuse Awareness Day 2020, we are reflecting on the role members of our firm can take to not only raise awareness of elder abuse, but also prevent elder abuse by providing support to our clients and members of our community. Elder abuse is any act that causes harm to an older person and is carried out by someone they know and trust.
The biggest challenge in preventing elder abuse is that it often occurs within family and domestic relationships. We all know how complex those family and domestic relationships can be. Our approach includes helping clients separate out the behaviours that are causing harm and provide advice on how to prevent more harmful consequences for the senior person and any others who are affected, whether carers, family members or friends.
A common example of elder abuse dealt with by our team is a family member offering accommodation to an elderly relative in their own home, or by building a granny flat. A dispute often arises among the wider family when the elder relative provides a substantial cash contribution towards the accommodation or when caring responsibilities become overwhelming.
The risk of elder abuse is greater when there is tension within a family and within a household. Resentment and disappointed expectations are a common cause for an elderly parent to be treated disrespectfully or suffer financial abuse. Similarly, a lack of understanding of what will be required of the family to provide good care of their parent as they age can mean a household is unprepared. The elderly person is then left unable to make their own arrangements for proper care and may suffer neglect or mistreatment.
Our guidance in this type of situation has three common features:
Communication – These are difficult conversations between family members and it is understandable that a loved family member’s intentions can be guessed or assumed. When money is involved, and a family home, then it becomes essential to talk about those intentions first. Putting the decision down in writing is also crucial, whether by a formal agreement, or even a letter. A family dispute is much less likely to cause serious tension if it is clear why a decision was made in the first place.
Caring responsibilities – The difficult discussion about what happens when a family doesn’t have the capacity to care for an older person living with them should not be put off. Ask a doctor or healthcare worker to help everyone understand what is involved in caring for the elderly and to help the family make a plan.
Understanding property rights – We have many clients who are unaware that they have given up rights to the house they live in, even though they have made a significant financial contribution. Whether in the position of parent, carer or adult child with their own household, everyone should understand whether they can control how and where they live.
How can we help?
By supporting our community to have these difficult discussions we can help raise awareness about elder abuse and work on prevention. If you need assistance in any aspect of elder care and elder abuse, please contact our Wills & Estates team on 02 6285 8000 or by email.
Useful links: World Elder Abuse Awareness Day; Seniors Rights Victoria; International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse