It is not uncommon to hear of heartbreaking stories of older people being bullied or manipulated against their wishes, mistreated, or feeling confused about their rights. Often, elders don’t know who to speak to and are afraid it may worsen the abuse. Elder abuse is never ok, and there are an alarming number of cases of it each week in Australia. In this blog we talk about what elder abuse is, the laws in Queensland and the signs to look out for.
What is elder abuse?
Elder abuse is a single or repeated act within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person. However, this can also be a lack of appropriate action too, leading to mistreatment. The harsh reality is that elder abuse is vastly under-reported and, in most case, committed by close family members.
There are many different types of abuse that could relate to elder abuse including physical, psychological, sexual, by neglect or, the most common form, financial. In a lot of cases, the perpetrators are the powers of attorney who are abusing their rights, often transferring money or other assets from elderly people – including property – for their own benefit.
Some of the warning signs to look out for that might be red flags for financial abuse of an elder might include:
- Family members who try to inappropriately influence their parents’ choices such as to make changes to their will.
- Older persons frequently changing their mind about their enduring power of attorney
- Lack of money for day to day items
- Loss of jewellery or personal belongings
- Older person expressing fear, anxiety or confusion when discussing finances, assets, property
- Unexplained amounts of money missing from bank accounts
- Unpaid accounts
- Loss of trust
While these signs don’t cover off on the other types of abuse, it’s also important family members and friends look out for changes to an older person’s behaviour and irritability. This could be fear of specific people, being easily upset, worry for no obvious reason or reluctance to openly talk – all tell-tale signs that something could be wrong.
What is the law?
There is no doubt that Queensland and Australia are both lagging behind the rest of the world when it comes to introducing legislation to specifically protect our elderly. In fact, there are currently no laws in Queensland specifically relating to Elder abuse. In saying that, there are several reviews currently underway and reports being prepared to consider the adequacy of the law as it stands at present and opportunity to improve.
In fact, in May 2009, the Queensland parliament passed a Bill – or a draft Act – to introduce important changes to the Criminal Code of Queensland in relation to crimes against elders and children. These changes highlight the need for a tougher response to elder abuse including neglect.
Currently the only guards in place in Australia relating to elder abuse come from the following laws and statutory protections:
- the Criminal Law
- Common Law and Equity
- Powers of Attorney Act
- the Guardianship and Administration Act
- the Peace and Good Behaviour Act
- the Domestic and Family Violence Act.
Where do I report elder abuse?
There are several government agencies that have been established to assist to protect the interests of the elderly who are being abused. These are:
- The Guardianship and Administration Tribunal which can act when informal arrangements are inadequate, and a formal process is required to protect the interests of a person lacking capacity
- The Adult Guardian whose main role is to police enduring powers of attorney and to protect the rights and interests of adults who have impaired capacity –
- The Public Trustee which can act as Administrator to manage a person’s financial affairs
- Queensland Police Service – can act to protect and support victims of elder abuse by applying for a Domestic Violence Protection Order, investigating criminal offences, or referring the victim and the offender to support services.
Much of the time, elder abuse is kept hidden – a secret within families. It relies a sibling, friend or another family member to suspect that something is wrong and report it immediately. If any of the above signs seem familiar to you, start a conversation with the person to check if they are okay. Often, an older person could be reluctant to talk about elder abuse due to shame, fear, or an unwillingness to get family members in trouble, however the reality is that it is unlikely to stop unless something is done about it.
If elder abuse is happening to you or someone you know, get in touch with our team of experienced lawyers today to ensure their financial decisions and will remains consistent with their wishes.
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