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Elder abuse: how to protect those that can’t protect themselves

Author: Robert Lamb
4 min read
02 June 2019

Key Takeaways

  • There are a number of types of elderly abuse, not just financial, although this is often a key driver.
  • In Queensland, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) can investigate allegations of elder abuse.
  • The Queensland Law Society, through their Elder Law Committee, are working hard to urgently implement a national, far-reaching plan to combat elderly abuse.

Elder abuse is more prevalent in Australia than you may think. It is often a closely guarded secret, steeped in shame, with the victim unable or unwilling to seek help for many reasons.

Awareness of elder abuse is growing, with lawmakers and the government, particularly in Queensland, shedding more light on this complicated and emotionally charged subject. So what is happening on a societal and personal level to bring about change?

With World Elder Abuse Awareness Day approaching on 14 June, we look at what constitutes elder abuse, the reasons for it and what can be done from a personal and legal perspective if a loved one is being abused.

The elderly can be abused in a number of ways, not just financial, although this is often a key driver. Another form of abuse can be through ‘Inheritance Impatience’, which is a term coined to convey when children start helping themselves to their inheritance earlier than they should.

In Queensland, the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) can investigate allegations of elder abuse which can be in the following ways in addition to financial:

  • physical
  • sexual
  • psychological such as threats and harassment (including verbal abuse)
  • neglect such as withholding medication, not providing adequate food, denying sources of heat or cooling
  • exploitation, such as taking advantage of someone

Elderly abuse is akin to a domestically abusive relationship. It is often a relationship that the elderly person chooses to stay in due to a perceived lack of options, limited cognitive capacity, limited funds or fear of the unknown.

Not only does the abuse take its toll on the victim, it also costs the national purse as social security is relied upon, due to the victim’s funds being whittled away. It also results in higher demands on the health care system.

The Queensland Law Society (QLS) has a dedicated Elder Law Committee and is at the forefront of policy change in this area. They are working hard to get the major parties to urgently implement a national, far-reaching plan to combat this scourge.

So what can lawyers do to help?

The key to helping an elderly person and preventing abuse is to ensure a good, trustworthy advocate is in place, with a tandem effort by relatives (if any), the government, doctors and public institutions.

Lawyers can help by ensuring that Wills and Estates are properly planned with the elderly person’s wishes carried out. In addition, lawyers can advise and ensure a proper Power of Attorney is in place and that an Advanced Health Directive is in place.

The Queensland Government website states that “a Power of Attorney is a formal document giving another person the authority to make personal and/or financial decisions on your behalf”.

Personal decisions can relate to your care and welfare, including your health care (i.e. deciding where and with whom you live with and consenting to medical treatment).

Financial decisions are in regard to the management of your finances (i.e. paying your bills and taxes, selling or renting your home, using your income to pay for your needs or invest your money).

There are two types of Power of Attorney namely General and Enduring. General is usually used for financial decisions, while you can still make your own decisions. The Enduring Power of Attorney can include both financial and personal decisions and can be used straight away or when you have lost capacity to make decisions.

These documents help to protect the rights and wishes of the person and can often ensure that abuse of a financial and medical nature is not perpetrated.

Having these documents properly planned by a lawyer ensures that no stone is left unturned when it comes to how an elderly person receives medical care or has their assets distributed.

Lawyers can also assist in making the application to QCAT if a case is to be brought for abuse. Additionally they can advise the elderly person themselves or someone genuinely acting as Power of Attorney or a concerned relative to enforce the rights of the elderly person.

Elder abuse is an egregious act and as a society we need to do more to stop it. It is often left unpunished as reporting incidences are low and the perpetrators ‘get away with it’ regularly.

Thankfully, there are steps that can be taken to report and protect those that have given us so much.

Importantly, if you suspect an elderly person is being abused in Queensland, you can contact the OPG on 1300 653 187, your local police station or contact a lawyer.

The information in this blog is intended only to provide a general overview and has not been prepared with a view to any particular situation or set of circumstances. It is not intended to be comprehensive nor does it constitute legal advice. While we attempt to ensure the information is current and accurate we do not guarantee its currency and accuracy. You should seek legal or other professional advice before acting or relying on any of the information in this blog as it may not be appropriate for your individual circumstances.

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