For Elders: The Mental Competency and Responsibility Issue Defined

Apr 25th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Finances

We stumbled on another issue of fraud perpetrated against the elderly this week.  And there is an interesting twist to it.  That is the issue of responsibility for one’s actions as it relates to age.

We attribute the age of 21 to people in the early adulthood generation as the age at which they have to accept responsibility for their behavior.  Young people cannot drink alcoholic beverages until they are 21; they generally cannot sign legal contracts until they are 21; 21 is a magical age when a young person moves from childhood/teen year to adulthood.  But is there a magical age on the elderly end of the spectrum?  Is there an age when people are no longer expected to be responsible?

A recent report of an 81 year old widower losing his $650k home and $500k life savings eight years ago suggests he may have been a victim of fraud, and he is now suing for his loss.

The issue is that he depended upon the advice of others, and they did not advise him well; thus he is suing the financial institutions and various people he trusted with his money.  He says he should be compensated because he is too old to bear the responsibility for his choices and actions.

The argument is they should not be held responsible because they are elders.  American society does not hold teens (up to the age of 21) responsible for their behavior because of their age.  Is there any difference on the elder end of the spectrum?

The National Center on Elder Abuse says society is responsible for protecting senior citizens from financial victimization–even when it’s caused by their own mistakes.  There is an age on both ends of the life spectrum when people must not be allowed to sign contracts and take responsibility for major decisions.  We don’t allow teenagers to make those kinds of decisions.  Why do we allow elders to make those decisions when their cognitive abilities may be impaired and they may be at risk of losing their financial resources?

SCJ believes this is an issue that needs to be discussed, and we welcome your comments.



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