The law recognizes that the elderly can be more vulnerable to crime and exploitation than other members of society. As of 2013, 29 states and Washington D.C. had laws designed to protect elders from financial abuse and to enhance the criminal penalties of those convicted of such abuses. Unfortunately, innocent people can also end up accused of these types of crimes as well. Learn more about how this happens and what you can do to protect yourself.
False accusations often come from family members.
More than likely, the allegations start through a report either to your state's Agency on Aging, an elder abuse hotline, or the police. Since it usually takes someone with enough intimate knowledge of the elder's personal affairs to make specific accusations, the allegations probably came from one or more of the elder's family members. (If you're also related to the elder involved, that means your potential accusers might also be your family members.)
There are times when the allegations are made in good faith, but they're based on distorted information or inaccurate understandings of the situation. Other times, the accusations are blatant lies, motivated by the accuser's own personal jealousy or greed, especially if the elderly person has given money or gifts.
Suspicion tends to naturally fall on certain people.
Elder abuse is an increasingly common problem, and suspicion tends to fall on the people that they know, simply because statistics support the idea that those are the most likely abusers. More than half of the financial crimes committed against the elderly are actually committed by friends, family members, and caregivers. The more access that you have to the elder's financial affairs, the more likely that you could be accused.
Specific measures can be taken to protect yourself.
While there's no perfect way to protect yourself against false accusations, you can take certain precautions that should help:
Have your elderly family member or friend give you a financial power of attorney. This document legally allows you to do things like take care of the elder's banking or bills when he or she is ill or unable to run the errands alone.
Keep a record of any significant gifts of cash, jewelry, or other personal property that he or she gives you. Transparency can go a long way toward dispelling the appearance of wrongdoing on your behalf.
If you are paying bills, don't take cash out of the elder's bank account. Use checks instead. If you must take cash for some reason, insist on giving a receipt and clearly indicate on the receipt the purpose for the cash.
When arranging to have the financial power of attorney drawn up, make sure that your elderly friend or family member uses a licensed attorney of his or her own choosing. Ideally, the attorney should be one that he or she has used before. If he or she has never used an attorney, make sure that the attorney knows that your friend or relative is clearly in charge of the situation.
While you may dislike the idea of a formal arrangement when your intentions are to merely help out a friend or family member, the formality can save you a lot of trouble down the line. Contact a licensed lawyer for more info.