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How do you protect your family from financial abuse?

How do you protect your family from financial abuse?


I have worked with seniors and their families for over 20 years.

For the most part, adult children (and other caregivers) have the best interest of seniors at the forefront and make all decisions using that approach. Unfortunately, I have had a handful of cases in which I suspected that a family member was misusing their loved one’s finances and/or property, or at the minimum, making just below the standard decisions in order to “save” the finances for themselves after their parents’ death. I have also heard family members accuse other family members of theft as well.
So what can you do to protect yourself and your family? It is essential that you PREPARE LEGAL DOCUMENTATION in which a representative is designated to make financial, personal, legal and medical decisions on your behalf should you not be able to make decisions for yourself.

Follow these simple guidelines when evaluating and creating these documents.

1. Trust – Dig deep and think about whom you trust in your family or within you circle of friends.

2. Respect of values – Is there someone who respects you and the decisions that you make for yourself without judgment? Is there someone who recognizes that values and belief systems are personal and this person can represent your values and not their own?

3. Drama vs. crisis management – Is there someone who reacts calmly in crises? Does this person take time to fully evaluate choices before making a final decision? This is someone to consider as a representative as the best decisions are made when well thought out.

4. Financial management – Who within your family/friends is responsible with money? Who understands long term investments and can evaluate expenditures now and potentially? Or, who knows how to find a professional (i.e., financial advisor) to assist if this person does not have the skills? Who is organized with paperwork?

5. Health and medical – Who within your family is skilled at communicating with health care professionals? Who has the ability to evaluate treatment, care, housing, etc. and make informed decisions? Is there anyone with a medical background available to represent you?

6. Divide and conquer – You can name different representatives for different decisions. Include these clauses in your documents.

7. Family harmony – Yes, you are worried about one (or more) of your children’s reactions should you not choose them. In the end, this is about YOU and your well-being and if you make a choice based on anything other than that your care and financial viability may suffer.

a. Choose one or two people (this can be written as an “and/or” clause if you want each person to have full abilities or shared abilities).

b. Add a clause in which the representative must render the financial accounts to other family members on a regular (i.e. yearly) basis thereby including all of your children AND adding a protective measure of supervision of your assets should someone misuse funds.

c. Add a clause stating that all major decisions (surgery, treatment, housing changes, etc.) must be discussed among all children before the final decision is made (in a non-crisis situation).

d. Inform a third party (financial advisor, lawyer, friend) that there is a clause requiring the rendering of accounts yearly, or include them in this process, to ensure that if there is abuse, it is caught in a timely manner.

e. Include a clause that requires a majority vote from your children if you predict conflict.

8. Add at least one or more substitute decision makers to the document in case your first choice is unable or unwilling to fulfill their role.

9. Push the elephant from the room – At the minimum, prepare your legal documents. But if you really want to protect yourself, talk to your family about your fears, expectations and hopes about your aging experience. The more someone understands you the better care and support you will receive.

10. Use the Discussion Guide in the Caregiving Worksheets at to facilitate family discussions and to initiate special clauses in your legal documents that are appropriate for you.

About the author

Stephanie Erickson

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