When Families Take Advantage

When we think of family being involved in the care of aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones we assume that is a positive thing. However, this is not necessarily the case. While we hope we can trust our family to have our best interest in mind and support us as we age, family dynamics vary widely from family to family. It is a difficult topic to discuss, but it is important to talk about when families take advantage of vulnerable adults and how we can avoid this situation.

Red Flags: Guiding Principles  

When it comes to advocating for aging or vulnerable loved ones in your life it is important to both keep a compassionate eye out and never assume the worst. Red flags, while important to note, don’t necessarily mean there is something wrong; they are just worth paying attention to. When it comes to noticing potential problems, come at them with a concerned curiosity and ask questions. Seek to understand before jumping to conclusions. Honesty and candor are great tools in approaching issues of concern.

Pay attention to patterns of behavior. There may be one-off days, or onetime incidents that may seem odd, but if you see something repeating that is the time to really turn your focus.

The guiding question in assessing a situation or another family member’s behavior can be, “Is there transparency in what they are doing on behalf of the loved one?” Chances are if someone doesn’t want others to know what they are doing, it is for a reason.

Red Flags: What to Watch For

  • A family member from out of state all of a sudden shows up for visits and starts going through mom and dad’s files without telling anyone.
  • A family member is cleaning out mom and dad’s home and is vague or not discussing what they are doing or their intentions.
  • A family member has hired an attorney and is providing the attorney with information about mom and dad but is keeping it from the rest of the family.
  • Your loved ones are giving away large and uncharacteristic gifts to other loved ones or charities.
  • Your loved one has lent money and not gifted it more than once and the loans are not being paid off.
  • You begin to see previously consistent bills from professional services, housing facilities, utilities, etc. begin to fluctuate and increase.
  • A friend or love interest is developing a relationship with a loved one for financial gain and is the recipient of uncharacteristic gifts.

Tips for Advocates: Helping Prevent Family from Being Taken Advantage Of  

  • Have a relationship with the important people in your parent’s life that can be partner advocates out in the community. This might include pastors and spiritual leaders, grocery store clerks, bank professionals and tellers, clubs, friends.
  • Know what services your loved one is paying for and make sure that the professionals and agencies involved in care understand the financial goals of your loved one and are delivering the most appropriate services in a cost-effective manner. When you see a loved one spending more and more time with someone that they are paying by the hour, and it doesn’t seem proportionate to what is needed, that is a red flag. If there is a change in condition and needs, that should be communicated to the family.
  • Have a candid talk with your aging loved one about their wishes and financial goals for the later stages of life. Make sure that they are able to meet all their needs and that there are funds protected for potential healthcare, long-term care, and housing needs. Talk about gifts of money and any desires they may have to witness family or charities enjoy monetary gifts during their lifetime.
  • Build a relationship with friends and love interest of aging parents. Ask yourself the guiding question: “Does this person give my loved one a higher quality of life? Is mom or dad’s life better because this person is in it? How are they treating them and making them feel?
  • A Geriatric Care Manager, who is an RN or MSW trained in the care of older adults, can be an important advocate for vulnerable adults. Especially when family lives far away, it is helpful to hire a trusted professional to be the eyes and ears of the family. Care Managers are skilled in looking for red flags and following through with concerns to find answers and solutions. They are adept at dealing with family dynamics and can respond appropriately to changes in condition to make sure loved ones are receiving the highest quality care and are protected.
  • While difficult to address, it is important for families to be honest about known risks and family dynamics. Each family is unique; however, if there is a family member who is understood to be dishonest, uncooperative, lacking in maturity and judgment, suffering from mental health disorders, erratic in their behavior, etc. it can make matters more complicated. It is crucial for aging adults to adapt their legal documentation to fit their needs and wishes and anticipate potential issues in the future. Be 100% candid about relational concerns with your elder law and/or estate attorney so they can advise on proper legal precautions that are appropriate for your situation.
  • Set up a Durable Power of Attorney and consider hiring an elder law attorney to help loved ones get the legal guidance they need to mitigate their risks. It is important to make sure that their wishes are respected and that they will have someone to speak on their behalf if they are unable to in the future. An unexpected stroke, heart attack, or diagnosis can really blindside us. The time to be making these legal arrangements is long before we need them. The best way to advocate for yourself is to set up these safety nets before you become vulnerable.

Further Resources 

For more information about Geriatric Care Management in the Puget Sound visit: http://www.soundoptions.com/geriatric-care-management

To find a Certified Geriatric Care Manager anywhere in the US visit: http://www.caremanager.org/

Published on October 20, 2014.