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How to protect a Los Angeles senior from financial abuse

Independence is a precious possession that seniors often guard carefully as long as they feel sound in body and mind. Even when age or illness interferes with that independence, older people can be hard-pressed to give up activities like driving or balancing a bank statement.

Many elderly people in Los Angeles live alone, whether by choice or unfortunate circumstances, making them vulnerable to financial abuse. As we age, we often need assistance from family members, neighbors or a paid caregiver. A close relationship doesn't mean a healthy one; seniors' finances can be devastated by someone they trust.

The National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse released a 2010 report, co-sponsored by an insurance company, about seniors' financial losses at the hands of "trusted" individuals. Older participants said they lost $2.9 billion to strangers or someone they knew, including children who took advantage of them. The problem is not uncommon or new, according to elder law and care experts.

If you are the caregiver chosen to take over an elderly person's finances, you are a fiduciary - a relationship of trust in which a person acts in the best interests of someone else. The trusted individual may be a guardian, a trustee or an agent with power of attorney with responsibilities to manage finances efficiently and honestly. A senior may hand over car keys, identity records, bills, account numbers and credit cards to a fiduciary. Unfortunately, some caregivers take advantage of the position.

People can watch for signs of exploitation in older family members, friends and acquaintances. Some indicators include unusual purchases or gifts, failure to meet regular expenses, missing funds, sudden beneficiary changes and large or frequent bank transactions.

Age can rob a person of good physical health and strong cognitive abilities. Younger, caring individuals can help make sure that nothing else is taken from the elderly. If you see financial abuse, report it.

Source: dallasnews.com, "Steps caregivers can take to prevent senior financial abuse" Gordon Studer, Nov. 29, 2013

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