Seniors: Protecting Against Family Theft and Fraud

Apr 18th, 2010 | By Sharon Shaw Elrod MSW EdD | Category: Senior Finances

Unfortunately, family theft and fraud is one of the most common types of insult perpetrated against senior citizens.  Theft of personal possessions–especially jewelry and household items, impersonating a senior, forging signatures, going outside the boundaries of a Power of Attorney are all examples of family members taking advantage of their senior relatives.

As would be expected, planning in advance is the best protection available to seniors concerned about family theft and fraud.  SCJ has these suggestions to make to seniors in efforts to address this common problem:

  • While you still have clear thinking and good problem solving skills, create a power of attorney that permits a trusted family member or close friend to make decisions for you when you are incapable of making those decisions.  Talk with that person about your wishes, and about how you want him/her to handle decision-making for you; write down anything you want to be sure is addressed appropriately, and make it part of the POA.
  • Make a written list of what household items you want to go to which relative, and make sure the person who has the POA has a copy of your list.  You may want to share the list with other (or all) family members.  If you don’t care who gets what, let that be known so your descendants can be prepared to divide your personal property fairly.  Or, you may want to give some of your personal property and household items, including jewelry, to the offspring or grandchild, yourself.  Some seniors report a great deal of joy, for example, giving their favorite antiques to their adult children and grandchildren.
  • In the case of fraud–either impersonating the elder or forging a signature–such behavior is against the law, and the senior has the option of filing charges against the perpetrator.  Short of that, the senior may want to ask the perpetrator to go to an attorney or arbitrator to try to remedy the action.  We all need to remember that any impersonating or forgery is a criminal act, punishable by a court of law.

In spite of all efforts to protect against family theft and fraud, an elderly person may discover some adult children/grandchildren/relatives/close friends have taken what they want without any concern for ownership or the wishes of the elder person.  In such circumstances, several options are available, including

  1. Ignoring the theft or fraud if the elder person does not want to pursue any action;
  2. Requesting the return of the item(s) in the case of theft;
  3. Seeking help from other family members to have the item(s) returned in the case of theft;
  4. Filing criminal charges against the person suspected of taking the item(s) or forging a signature or impersonating the senior.  Once filed, the situation is in the hands of the legal system.

Upon reflection, an almost overwhelming sadness fills the air when we realize we even have such a topic to write about.  SCJ encourages its readers to comment about their personal experiences in hopes such information will be helpful to others trying to avoid having to deal with criminal behavior.



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