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Friday, December 3, 2021

One small change can protect against elder abuse

The Public Trustee is urging Queenslanders to consider appointing more than one attorney in their enduring power of attorney document.

It says this small change can add an extra level protection against financial elder abuse in a time Queenslanders may need it most.

The Office of the Public Guardian (OPG) investigates reports of abuse involving Queenslanders living with impaired decision-making capacity.

As at 30 June 2021, the OPG saw an increase of 27% of active abuse investigations on the previous year.

Throughout the 2020-2021 financial year, 78% of the total reports of abuse made to the OPG, factored instances of financial abuse or exploitation.

The Attorney-General and Minister for Justice, Women and the Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence, Shannon Fentiman said advance life planning documents are important factors in protecting Queenslanders from abuse or exploitation.

“We want to ensure our vulnerable community members are protected from financial abuse, especially at their later stage of life.

“Having extra levels of protection such as appointing more than one power of attorney and making sure your will is up to date is vital in safeguarding yourself and your assets,” Ms Fentiman said.

However, the sad reality is that many cases of financial elder abuse reported in Queensland are perpetrated by direct family members, trusted friends, caregivers or their attorneys, she said.

The Public Trustee of Queensland and CEO, Samay Zhouand said an attorney or attorney’s role in an enduring power of attorney document was powerful and carries significant responsibilities.

“When Queenslanders appoint more than one attorney, the attorneys are required to make decisions together.”

“This provides an extra safeguard to protect you and your financial future.

“It also increases transparency regarding decisions made and helps to reduce the opportunity for exploitation or abuse,” Mr Zhouand said.

Financial elder abuse is the most commonly experienced form of abuse in Australia.

Mr Zhouand said many of cases of financial abuse investigated by the Public Trustee involved the misappropriation of a person’s funds.

“We have investigated cases in which the appointed attorney has syphoned off funds from individuals, such as their own family members, for their own personal gain.”

“Some cases involve a perpetrator using their role as the enduring power of attorney as a way to financially exploit older people or their close relations.

“This is a gross misuse of trust,” he said.

In Australia, elder abuse is considered to be vastly under disclosed and under reported. This is often due to the complex and intimate relationships older people experiencing abuse have with their perpetrators, Mr Zhouand said.

“It’s vital to have advance life plans in place, although it is just as critical to ensure careful considerations are made when appointing an attorney.”

“It is important that you consider your attorney or attorneys will, in all circumstances, act honestly, with reasonable skill and care, and will keep accurate records,” he said.

If you witness violence or are worried that an older person is at immediate risk, call the police on triple zero (000).

Queenslanders are encouraged to visit the Public Trustee website for more information at www.pt.qld.gov.au

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