Family Forum: Financial Elder Abuse

Help me to rescue Mum from selfish money-grab.


What is classed as elder abuse? A family member has stolen my mother’s money by taking control of her life as a power of attorney for the last two and a half years. This person has controlled everything with her bank account and without other siblings knowing until later with a text message. She has also put mum in a nursing home too far away from where she lived. What can we do?


The World Health Organisation defines elder abuse as: “A single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person. Elder abuse can take various forms such as physical, psychological or emotional, sexual and financial abuse. It can also be the result of intentional or unintentional neglect.”

A power of attorney provides the legal basis for a nominated person to deal with another person’s affairs. A general power of attorney is cancelled automatically if that person becomes legally incapacitated, but an enduring power of attorney will be effective until they die. Having a power of attorney does not mean a person loses control over their affairs. They can still make their own decisions, provided they remain competent to do so.

The nominated person is not legally required to ask permission or share decision making with other members of the family regarding how your mother’s money is spent. However, it is a good idea for a person undertaking the role to do so with full transparency. It is good practice to provide a summary of expenses with receipts and a copy of your mother’s bank statements to the family on a regular basis. This type of openness supports family relationships, reassures family members that their parent’s finances are being utilised appropriately and protects the power of attorney from suspicion.

If you have reason to believe that your mother’s money is being misused or misappropriated and the power of attorney refuses to provide evidence of how the money is being spent, you can apply to the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal for a review. SACAT is a state tribunal that helps people resolve issues within specific areas of law. There are also provisions in the Guardianship and Administration Act 1993 to protect vulnerable people from neglect, abuse or exploitation. This Act gives SACAT the power to make certain orders in relation to issues such as elder abuse.

The issue of your mother’s nursing home being far away from where she originally lived may have been unavoidable. Nursing home options can be limited and compromise on location is sometimes necessary because of issues such as cost, quality of care and availability. However, consultation and transparency in the way such decisions are made is always helpful.

If all parties are willing to attend, then family counselling could help improve the transparency of financial information and decision-making.

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