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Financial abuse of the elderly: spotting the warning signs and taking action.

19 June

Financial abuse of the elderly: spotting the warning signs and taking action.

Bell and Buxton Solicitor, Katie Winslow, explores the different ways that elderly and vulnerable people can be subjected to abuse by those supposedly providing care, and explains the important role solicitors play in identifying and putting a stop to the abuse.

As the average age of the population in the UK steadily rises, so too are the cases of financial abuse of the elderly. Last week another story alleging that a vulnerable, elderly person has been taken advantage of made the headlines. As a solicitor specialising in representing individuals and families affected by this sort of abuse, I find these stories make for sad reading. That someone could take advantage of a vulnerable person for their own gain is an abhorrent prospect to most of us, but the reality is that it happens all too often.

This time the alleged victim is not someone who you’d immediately expect could be easily taken advantage of. Stan Lee is -the former chairman of Marvel Comics and co-creator of many of the brand’s most famous characters including Spiderman and the X-Men. His estate is said to be worth more than $50 million. A temporary restraining order has been made in Los Angeles against Mr Lee’s manager, Keya Morgan, following allegations that he is unduly influencing and isolating him. It is alleged that Mr Morgan worked his way into the 95-year-old Mr Lee’s life, following the death of Mr Lee’s wife in 2017. A decision is due to be taken later this year on whether the restraining order will be made permanent.

Reading Mr Lee’s story brings to mind a number of cases that we have been involved in where a friend, relative or carer is alleged to have taken advantage of an elderly or vulnerable person. Elder abuse takes many forms; it can be financial, emotional and physical, and it is sometimes very subtle. It can be a distressing and sensitive issue, but one that we always have to be alive to as our areas of specialism mean that we regularly advise elderly and vulnerable clients.

While many elderly people receive valuable support from friends and relatives, we must always be on guard for the warning signs of potential elder abuse. Although of course not always signs of abuse, common red flags include increasing isolation, an elderly person not being given the chance to speak for themselves and always being accompanied, or a deterioration in personal appearance.

Whether we identify that someone might be at risk of elder abuse, or whether we are advising someone who is concerned about a possible case of elder abuse, appropriate safeguards should be put in place to protect the person in question. These safeguards can range from simply seeing the vulnerable person alone, through to orders made by the Court to look after the person’s interests… and of course putting a stop to the abuse.

Often, cases of elder abuse are only discovered after the victim has died, perhaps because their finances don’t look as expected. It isn’t always too late to do something about it though. Investigations can be made regarding the victim’s financial affairs and action can be taken to recover money or assets from wrongful recipients in appropriate circumstances.

No doubt the authorities in LA will get to the bottom of the allegations involving Mr Lee and hopefully he is now protected from any harm that he was suffering. His sadly won’t be the last case to make the news though, and the important message is that there are things that can be done to protect elderly and vulnerable people who are at risk of - or suffering - abuse.