We recently got a question from one of our subscribers regarding family members who take advantage of an older adult. It seems that her sibling had moved in with their elderly mother and at first she was relieved and grateful that her mom was getting help.
But recently she’s seen warning signs that make her fear that her sibling isn’t acting in the best interest of their aging parent. She wondered what, if anything, she could do about it.
Here’s what to do when a sibling takes advantage of your parent:
- Document everything you can
- Try a family meeting or intervention first
- If that doesn’t work, investigate your legal options
- Institute your legal power of attorney
- Get guardianship transferred to you
In this article, we’ll talk about how you’ll know whether your sibling is abusing your senior parents, be that physical or financial exploitation. We’ll also provide more details on the best way to handle this situation.
We know this is a thorny topic, but it’s one that you must address once you’re sure that abuse is happening.
What Type of Elder Abuse Is Most Common?
As the elderly population increases, it is becoming more common for adult children to step in to help with financial or medical decisions.
The older person’s children may even end up being in charge of a parent’s finances if they have a cognitive impairment. Or they may become the parent’s primary caregiver if they have health problems that prevent them from taking care of themselves.
Unfortunately, this can sometimes lead to the adult child exerting undue influence over the older person’s life, resulting in elder abuse.
The frequency of elder abuse is alarming and is considered a global public health and human rights issue. According to the National Council on Aging, up to five million older Americans are abused every year. About one in 10 adults age 60 and older experience some form of abuse. Victims of financial abuse lose about $36.5 billion a year. Yet, a national study suggests only one in 24 cases are reported to authorities in Elder Abuse Facts: What Is Elder Abuse? Cultural and societal attitudes play a role by making it difficult to reveal abuse. The lack of respect for older adults and the belief that behaviors and actions in the home are private family matters can contribute to undetected abuse.dailynews.com
Elder abuse, according to the World Health Organization or WHO, is defined as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust, which causes harm or distress to an older person.”
The Administration for Community Living or ACL broadens the definition of elder abuse, mentioning that it can entail self-neglect, abandonment, emotional abuse, exploitation, neglect, sexual abuse, or physical abuse.
Of all those forms of abuse of an elderly person, which is one is the most common? The answer, unfortunately, is neglect.
What Is Elder Neglect?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention or CDC, in their guide on elder abuse, describes neglect as “the failure to meet an older adult’s basic needs. These needs include food, water, shelter, clothing, hygiene, and essential medical care.”
All forms of elder abuse, including neglect, happen too often. The CDC notes that of those who are ages 60 or older still living in their homes, about one in 10 elderly people will experience some form of elder abuse.
Signs Your Senior Parent Is Being Neglected
Since your sibling might not be physically harming your senior parent, visible signs of elder abuse may not be readily apparent. That doesn’t mean they’re not there, though. Keep your eyes peeled for signs of elder neglect.
A red flag could be something like:
- Your elderly parent has lost weight because they’re not being fed often enough.
- They experience symptoms of dehydration regularly because they don’t have enough water.
- Their breath and/or body smells since they can’t maintain their hygiene.
- They’re lacking crucial medical aids such as medications, a hearing aid, dentures, or a walker.
- Their living conditions are unclean or in otherwise poor shape.
- Their clothes and hair look dirty all the time.
- They’re no longer engaging in activities or hobbies they usually enjoy.
Can A Sibling Prevent You From Seeing An Elderly Parent?
Maybe you don’t even know for sure what’s going on with an elderly individual because you think your sibling is blocking you from seeing them.
This can happen, and it’s often done discreetly, causing you to second-guess your own instincts.
For example, every time you call the house to ask for your mom or dad, maybe your sibling answers. Or maybe they pick up your elderly parent’s phone as well as their own.
When you ask to talk to your parent, your sibling always gives you an excuse, such as they’re sleeping, or they just left. If you try to visit, it’s the same old excuse.
If your sibling isn’t letting you see your parents, you must ask why you’re having such a difficult time. Is it simply family dynamics with one sibling “getting back” at another for something or is it something else?
In a case like this, it is more than likely that elderly abuse of some form is happening, and your sibling doesn’t want you to get wise. They could have even convinced your parents to change the will or give them complete control of your parent’s money.
Obviously, they’d prefer you didn’t find out about it.
What recourse do you have when your sibling prevents you from seeing your elderly parent? Here’s what we recommend.
The First Step Is To Call The Police
Dial the non-emergency police number (unless you suspect this is an emergency; in that case, call 911). Explain the situation to the dispatcher on the phone. Tell them that you have not been allowed to talk to or see your elderly parent and that you are concerned.
The police should head to your sibling’s house for a wellness check. Police can usually enter a home for a wellness check without a warrant, so your sibling will have no choice but to allow the police in.
If the police suspect that your elderly mom or dad is being abused, they might arrest your sibling. At the very least, they should separate your parent and your sibling for the time being.
Next, Go To The Courts
The police might not always want to help. After all, your senior parent is an adult. As such, they have free will over their own life.
If the police believe your elderly parent is not being held against that free will, then they don’t have the legal authority to assist.
In such an instance, the only way to get help may be to take legal action. If you take the issue to court, you can file for guardianship of your parent.
If your guardianship is granted, it can take four months between when you first file for guardianship and when it’s approved and the legal documents are drawn up. You’ll have to be patient in that time frame and try to stay in touch with your senior parent as best you can.
Once you become the guardian of your senior parent, however, your sibling can no longer continue their abuse.
What To Do When A Sibling Is Stealing From An Elderly Parent
Perhaps the form of abuse your poor elderly parent is enduring isn’t physical or neglectful, but financial. Financial elder abuse is one of the most reported forms of elderly abuse, so your own senior mom or dad likely wouldn’t stand for it.
However, older people can’t report what they don’t realize is happening. If your sibling is draining your elderly parent’s finances, you can’t stand by and do nothing. Here’s how to be proactive.
Know The Signs
Although elder financial abuse often involves forcing a senior to change the conditions of their will, that’s far from the only symptom.
Here are some other signs that financial abuse is occurring in the household:
- Your senior parent has stopped paying their bills when they used to always be on time.
- Their estate plan, which was set in stone for a long time, has now changed.
- They change their bank suddenly and with no clear explanation as to why.
- They’re signing checks that don’t look like their signature, or they cannot physically sign a check anymore.
- They’re taking out money more frequently from their bank account, even in small amounts.
Even a few repeated instances of documentable financial abuse could land your sibling in hot water, so try to record everything as best you can.
If you have access to your parent’s financial records such as bank statements or the ones for their credit cards, then it’s easy to document the suspicious charges. However, if your parent has now switched banks, you might be left in the dark.
Contact A Lawyer
Once you have stronger suspicions that your sibling is stealing money from your elderly parents, you should obtain legal advice.
Call or schedule an appointment with a lawyer for a free consultation to ask what your recourse is.
Call Adult Protective Services
One of the recommendations from the lawyer might be to contact Adult Protective Services or APS. The APS safeguards adults with disabilities, including younger and older adults, so your parents would meet the criteria.
Once the APS hears about your case, they should go to your sibling’s house to scope things out. They’ll do interviews, take videos and photos, and speak to witnesses. They’ll also request access to financial documents that you might not have been able to see.
Although APS can’t take someone away, they can work with the abused person to find them alternate housing and other resources they need.
Invoke Power Of Attorney
As legal power of attorney, you could oversee your parent’s financial and legal matters. If your sibling already has legal power of attorney, then you’d have to convince them to give the role up, which is something they likely won’t do readily.
What if no one is in the role of legal financial power of attorney? Then you can try to get it.
Keep in mind though that this can worsen tensions between you and your sibling and possibly cause issues with your other siblings as well (if you have any).
Or Petition For Guardianship
As we talked about before, obtaining guardianship over your elderly parents will prevent the financial abuse from continuing.
Keep in mind though that it can take four months or longer for you to become their guardian.
Protecting Elderly Parents From Sibling (How Do You Stop Someone From Taking Advantage Of The Elderly?)
It’s very heartbreaking to realize that your brother or sister is physically or financially abusing your senior parents or even neglecting them.
Before making the difficult decision of getting a restraining order or starting legal issues like guardianship and power of attorney, here are some tips for protecting your senior parents from abusive siblings.
Talk To Your Sibling One-On-One
Try for a moment to think about life in the shoes of your brother or sister. If they’re physically abusing your elderly parents, could it be out of frustration? This is never a good reason, but perhaps it’s understandable?
If they’re stealing money, maybe it’s because your sibling is hard up for cash. They might have had to quit their job to care for your parents full-time, and that’s a huge financial hit.
Even neglect can be accidental if your sibling doesn’t realize the full scope of care that your elderly parent needs in their day-to-day life.
Obviously, no form of abuse is okay, but it might not all be malevolent.
Try to have some compassion for your sibling and ask them if they need help. Perhaps they can’t continue to be a full-time caregiver for your senior parents and they need a live-in nurse or around-the-clock medical care.
Maybe it’s even time to move your senior mom or dad into assisted living or a nursing home.
Have A Family Meeting Or Intervention
If you feel like your words to your sibling fell on deaf ears, then it’s time to involve the rest of the family. Have a meeting to discuss how to prevent this familial abuse from occurring again. An intervention might even be necessary.
Threaten To Escalate Matters (And Then Follow Through)
What even if the family discussion failed to change your sibling’s abusive ways? Then you need to let your sibling know what you’re willing to do next. Tell them that you’ll call the police or APS or look into shifting the power of legal attorney or even guardianship.
These can’t be empty words though. Follow through on your actions.
When a sibling takes advantage of an elderly parent, it’s a distressing situation all around. The abuse can be physical, sexual, financial, or even neglectful,
We hope the information in this guide helps you take the next steps in dealing with this unfortunate matter so your parent can be in a safer situation!