Legal issues that come up when caring for an older adult are stressful. You don’t know what you’re supposed to do, you’re afraid of costly mistakes, or you’re not sure when (or if) a lawyer is needed.
To get answers, we asked Dennis Healy from ARAG, a legal insurance firm, to advise us on legal situations that affect seniors and family caregivers. Dennis shared four common scenarios and plenty of helpful solutions.
As a caregiver, you know about the day-to-day issues your older adult will face as they get older. But do you know that seniors also become more vulnerable to tricky legal situations?
Explore these four common situations and get tips on how to deal with them if they happen to your older adult.
1. You or your senior suspect a home health aide of stealing
Paid caregivers that you bring into your senior’s home have relatively easy access to personal property and financial information. Jewelry, medicine, cash, credit cards – these are all things that can be taken while the older adult is sleeping or resting in another room.
If your older adult reports that something is stolen:
- Verify that the item has not simply been misplaced.
- Contact the agency the person works for to let them know of their concerns. Licensed agencies generally have protocol in place to investigate and have insurance to protect against theft.
- Contact the police to report the theft and your suspicions. They will conduct an investigation and question the necessary people. It’s important to remember that this is their job – not yours.
- Consult with an elder law attorney about your legal options.
2. You and your siblings can’t agree on what the living situation should be for an aging parent as they begin to require more care
As parents age, each sibling will play different roles in the care given, based on proximity to the parent, willingness to take responsibility, financial capabilities to help out, relationship with the parent, etc.
Maybe you are there day in and day out caring for your mom and realize she needs more care and supervision than you can provide, but your sister is resistant to the idea of putting your mom in a nursing home or assisted living facility.
Family dynamics are complicated and when stressful situations like this arise, it’s best to have an outside, unbiased person who can help you make this very important decision. Eldercare specialists can conduct an assessment of your parent’s individual needs and create a care plan. They also compare housing and long-term care provider options and can negotiate rates when available.
3. You’re worried the person named as your senior’s durable power of attorney is managing finances irresponsibly or stealing
Whether it is a family member who can’t be trusted or a stranger who has convinced your older adult to give them power of attorney (like a nursing home staff member), the person who has power of attorney has access to your senior’s money and financial accounts.
This person is in powerful position that makes it easy for them to steal or make decisions about property based on his or her best interests, not the best interests of your older adult.
If your older adult is mentally competent, talk to them about your concerns. Give specific examples and suggest they have a frank conversation with the person who has been named power of attorney. Note: Mental competence is the rule courts use to determine whether a person’s signed legal documents and legal decisions are valid.
In situations where you don’t suspect outright stealing but more mismanaged finances, perhaps the person is simply overwhelmed and would be relieved to be off the hook if someone else were chosen.
If that doesn’t work, encourage your senior to meet with an attorney to revoke the durable power of attorney. They may also be able to sue for financial damages and ask the court to order all property or assets taken be returned.
If your older adult is not mentally competent, you will have to take legal action with the help of an attorney to try and have the court revoke the durable power of attorney.
4. Your senior is the victim of an online scam
One common scam is referred to as “the grandparent scam” and involves scammers sending emails “from a grandchild” who has been arrested and needs bail money wired to them as soon as possible. Variations of the scam also include emails claiming to be from other family members requesting financial help.
Other email scams could be disguised as messages from banks, government agencies or consumer websites asking for people to confirm their account information. These often include links to a copycat site where personal and financial information is stolen.
If you find out that your older adult has fallen victim to one of these scams, report it immediately to:
- The Federal Trade Commission. You can report it online or by calling 877-382-4357
- Local law enforcement
- The state attorney general’s office
If your loved one wired money, chances of getting that money back are slim, but contact an attorney to learn about your legal options.
As these four common situations show, legal issues for older adults and caregivers go beyond estate planning and what legal documents should be in place. When dealing with any issue, it’s always best to consult an elder law attorney that will help you ensure your older adult stays protected.
Guest contributor: Dennis Healy is a member of the ARAG® executive team. Dennis is a passionate advocate for legal insurance and caregiving services because he has seen firsthand how they help people, especially older adults, receive the care and protection they need. He has more than 25 years of insurance industry experience, with a primary focus on the sale of group voluntary benefit products to employer groups of all sizes through brokers, consultants and employee benefit exchanges.
Image: San Diego Elder Law Center
This article wasn’t sponsored and doesn’t contain affiliate links. For more information, see How We Make Money.