A national register would require the solicitor acting on behalf of the elder to officially log power of attorney documents. By doing so, the register would require a more rigorous process for a person to be authorised to act on behalf of the elder.
In August, Australian Banking Association chief executive Anna Bligh renewed the group’s calls for the federal government to establish a national register of power-of-attorney documents and a new service to field complaints about abuse.
“Inheritance impatience”, she said, was one of the most prevalent forms of financial abuse across Australia, often involving family members buying goods using an elderly relative’s funds due to a pre-emptive sense of ownership of the money.
At the time, the association cited research by YouGov showing that six in 10 Australians were worried about a loved one experiencing financial abuse, with nine in 10 Australians wanting the government to do more to stop the problem.
Vicki* experienced financial elder abuse first-hand after being made an enduring power of attorney and guardians for both parents alongside her step-brother.
At a time when both her elderly parents were hospitalised, Vicki noticed in some paperwork sent to her father that her stepsister’s name was on it as his guardian and power of attorney. She had money taken out of her parents’ joint bank account, with her mum forced to close the account to prevent her withdrawing the total amount.
“People don’t think this can happen to them,” Vicki said. “Often, they trust people, including their
family members, to do the right thing. Families don’t live close together anymore in a lot of cases so often don’t know what is happening.”
Vicki said the national register of power of attorney would have greatly assisted her situation.
“I thought I had this all covered doing both parents Enduring Power of Attorney and Enduring Guardianship with a solicitor and reviewing this regularly and having my Step Brother being involved with this as well,” she said.
“People who abuse the elderly believe it is their right to have what the person will be leaving behind and they can be very convincing.”
Lauren* said her parents were convinced by her sister to sell their family home and build a granny flat on her property at their cost. Eventually, the sister evicted the family and instead got people to pay rent to live in the granny flat.
“My sister encouraged them without anyone else knowing,” Lauren said. “It was horrendous, they ended homeless with nothing, there’s no protection, no one you can go to.”
The case went to the courts, with Lauren’s elderly mother forced to spend two and a half days in the witness box.
“It was horrific,” she said. “They think it’s their child, and they think their child will somehow eventually honour them. They just keep thinking it will go away it will get better, but it doesn’t.”
*Names changed to protect identities.
Sarah is a journalist for The Sydney Morning Herald.