Conservatorship Can Reduce the Risk of Financial Exploitation of Seniors


Probate and estate administration

A little-known and discussed form of elder abuse is financial exploitation. By reason of old age or due to physical and mental limitations, some people may no longer be able to manage their own financial affairs and become easy targets for the unscrupulous. There are some legal instruments available like conservatorship and healthcare power of attorney, which can protect seniors from exploitation and abuse at a time when they are most vulnerable. Estate lawyers can help to set up these protections, as well as providing other financial legal services like probate and trust, estate planning, and making a will.

Financial fraud and seniors
Financial exploitation is one of the commonest types of elder abuse. In 2011, a study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute found that seniors lost at least $2.9 billion due to financial exploitation each year. This figure had increased by 12% since 2008. And in 2010, the Investor Protection Trust Elder Fraud Survey reported that 20% or one in five Americans over the age of 65 has been a victim of financial fraud.
In a study of different types of abuse, major financial exploitation was self-reported at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed. This was higher than self-reported rates of other types of abuse such as emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect. Fortunately there are financial instruments and protections like conservatorship and healthcare power of attorney that can reduce the incidence of elder abuse and financial fraud.

Conservatorship can prevent financial fraud
In the U.S., under a conservatorship a judge can appoint a guardian or a protector to manage the financial affairs and/or daily life of someone who is unable to do so for themselves during to old age or physical or mental limitations. The conservator or guardian may manage only the estate or also the person. In the latter case, this involves overseeing daily activities, health care or living arrangements.
Conservatorship allows for the protection of persons who are judged by the court to be gravely disabled and unable provide for their basic needs of food, clothing, and shelter. Conservators are called guardians or trustees in some states or jurisdictions. An attorney can help to create a conservatorship, along with other financial instruments like estate planning, wills, probate and trusts.

Planning for the future with healthcare power of attorney
Healthcare power of attorney gives another individual the right to make medical and other decisions for someone who is incapacitated. In general people make this decision well ahead of time, so that it will be in place when the need arises. As many as 38% of all adults have a healthcare power of attorney in place.

Protections like conservatorship and healthcare power of attorney can go a long way in reducing the problem of elder abuse and financial exploitation of elders. An estate attorney can help to set these up, as well as any other financial instruments like wills, probate and trusts.

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