Pine Bluffs Seniors learn how to avoid Financial Abuse


October 3, 2019

Victoria Smithey/Pine Bluffs Post

Above: Dr. Virginia B. Vincenti, professor at the University of Wyoming, explains how to avoid financial abuse on the elderly.

When my mother began forgetting things, telling the same stories over and over, I worried that she might be in danger of not being able to care for her finances the way that she used to. I was lucky that I had two sisters that lived in the same town as she did that were able to take care of her as her condition worsened. It never occurred to me that either of my sisters would ever take advantage of my mother; however, there are many families who are not that lucky. When people hear the word elder abuse they think of things like physical mistreatment, however, financial elder abuse is more common than people like to think, and often not reported out of shame or embarrassment.

In an effort to combat elder financial abuse the Pine Bluffs Senior Center offered a workshop this last Thursday to educate our local seniors and their caregivers about the ins and outs of elder financial abuse. Dr. Virginia B. Vincenti, professor at the University of Wyoming, along with Candace Werth from Werth Law LLC, put together a program to help others recognize the signs of financial abuse as well as some of the remedies that are available for those who either have been a victim, or know someone who has.

Statistics on this topic are often hard to come by as not every state is committed to collecting the data necessary to really understand how rampant this problem is. In Wyoming it is conservatively estimated that for every one case that is reported there are about ten more that go unreported. In other states that statistic goes up drastically, for every one case reported there are about forty cases that go unreported. This leaves thousands of seniors who suffer in silence. One of the key points in understanding this statistic is understanding that the majority of this abuse is committed by a family member, and most seniors just don't want to put their child, grandchild, or other family member in jail.

Some of the risk factors associated with financial abuse are common. Things like poor impulse control, no life direction, addiction, attitude of entitlement, and self centeredness can all play a part in someone taking advantage of an elderly family member. Seniors that suffer from depression, widowhood, cognitive or physical impairment, and low level of education are often seen as easy targets for the family member that wants to take advantage. Family dynamics can be complicated at best and oftentimes feelings of jealousy, power struggles, and violent family relationships can leave elderly family members open to abuse.

Recognizing the signs of abuse can sometimes be tricky, but paying attention to your elderly loved ones goes a long way. Some things to watch for include: cash payments, or checks made to cash, unusual ATM or debit card use, payments for goods and services not received, phone calls taken or made in private, or a new "friend" or advisor in your loved ones life that seems to be making financial decisions, as well as a change in behavior.

Recognizing the abuser can be even harder. Some things to watch for include: Isolating the elder from other family members, signs of physical abuse or neglect, missing or broken dentures, eye wear, or hearing aides, fear or emotional distress when the elder speaks about that family member, or any attempts by a family member to convince an elder that they are the only person that cares for them.

Exploitation can also take many forms. It can be as blatant as actual theft of property, cash, or jewelry, editing documents, forgery, and pressure of the elder to sign documents. The exploitation might also be harder to recognize, or it may just look like "help". Things like creating joint accounts to "make it easier to pay bills", moving in with the elder to save money, or failure to provide accurate accounting.

Some of these things can be avoided by taking preventative steps early on. While you are able do your due diligence. Engage in proactive financial planning. Set in motion the way that you want your finances handled before you get older. Engage in proactive and careful end of life planning, including your wishes on care and power of attorney. When you choose a power of attorney this should be a careful and well-founded choice that is discussed at length with an attorney that is well versed in elder matters. Anyone that you choose to handle your affairs should be well versed in what can and cannot be done.

Almost all of these things can be avoided by simply having open, honest, and respectful discussions as a family. When you are doing your estate planning leave as little open to interpretation as possible. Make your wishes well known and easily followed. If you are worried that a loved one is being taken advantage of, or if you need more information about elder financial abuse please visit


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