Q Dear Rick:
I have an issue and I’m not sure who to talk to; that is why I’m writing you. I am a widower and I have a friend who I socialize with; she is a widow. We go out together but we each pay our own way. Recently, I’ve noticed that she has become very frugal with her money. When I tried to discuss it with her, she immediately changed the subject. When I was over her house last week I noticed a number of bills of hers that were overdue. When I asked her about that she became very defensive. I’ve talked to a couple other friends of ours and they said they’ve noticed the same thing. She has three daughters, two that live out of town and one that lives in town. The one who lives in town generally helps in handling my friend’s financial affairs. I believe there’s some hanky-panky going on but I’m not sure. My question to you is should I just ignore the situation or should I do something? If I should do something, what should I do? I don’t want to get anyone in trouble but at the same time I want to help my friend.
A Dear Jerry:
What you have described is potentially a case of elder abuse. Elder abuse is a rapidly growing problem and hundreds and hundreds of thousands of seniors every year are subject to it. Unfortunately, two of the main perpetrators of senior abuse are caregivers and adult children. Obviously, when it is a family member involved, solving the problem is more complex. However, I do believe that it is appropriate for you to take some action.
The first thing I would do is if you know one of the other adult children, it may be appropriate to contact them to express your concern. Hopefully, they would then want to take the ball and run with it. There could be a number of things that they can do to help get to the bottom of the problem. However, in many situations as unfortunate as it is, many adult children don’t want to get involved. If that is the case, then you have another alternative.
The other alternative you have is to contact the State of Michigan. The State through the Department of Health has a toll-free number 1-855-444-3911 where you can report elder abuse.
Elder abuse is a growing problem in America. Unfortunately, because all sorts of factors including embarrassment and denial, it is a crime that goes unreported. That is why when you see something that you think is elder abuse, whether it is physical or financial, you don’t just turn a blind eye but rather, you take the appropriate action. Remember, when you report something to the State, that doesn’t mean that you can prove elder abuse; rather, it means that you have a reasonable suspicion that there is a problem.
We all know that seniors are more susceptible to abuse whether it is financial or physical. When you see what you think is abuse you just can’t ignore it, you have to think about what is the next appropriate action to take. In many situations the senior may not be forthcoming about the abuse or will be in denial. In those situations you can, depending upon your relationship, talk to other family and friends to advise them of what you perceive to be happening. As friends we have responsibilities for each other and sometimes in order to protect a friend we are put in uncomfortable positions-that’s life. However always remember it is better to be safe than sorry.
Rick is a fee-only financial advisor. His website is www.bloomassetmanagement.com. If you would like Rick to respond to your questions, please email Rick at firstname.lastname@example.org