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Written as accurate 5 June 2019

By Georgia Rowan

“He died humiliated and betrayed, nearly broke and often broken”

It’s not a sentiment that one would think of as being written about one of the brightest stars Hollywood has ever seen. Though on October 21st, 2015, this is exactly how Mickey Rooney was described by the Hollywood Reporter, in a lengthy feature article that finally exposed the extent of the abuse Mr. Rooney received in the last years of his life.

In his incredibly long life, Mickey Rooney achieved what few ever have, or will: his acting career spanned 88 years, starring in over 300 movies, including his last role filmed the week of his death. Rooney was a legend of the rarest sort.

That’s why it was such a shock when, in April 2011, Rooney went to Washington D.C. to sit before the Senate Special Aging Committee to testify against some of those closest to him; mainly his stepson, for elder abuse: “I was unable to avoid becoming the victim of elder abuse. Elder abuse comes in many, many different forms: physical abuse, emotional abuse, and financial abuse”.

Rooney explained how, over the years, his possessions, including his Oscar, had been secretly taken and sold, cheques were issued, and his income was deposited into an account in his daughter’s name, all without his knowledge and consent. He spoke about how he was maliciously isolated, wasn’t able to make any decisions for himself for his finances, and was made to feel like a prisoner in his own home and life. Sadly, the real extent of the abuse Rooney suffered wasn’t uncovered until after his death.

The same can be said for comic book creator and Marvel’s favourite father Stan Lee, who also spent his last weeks working hard. The films born from his comics have been reignited a love that audiences have had with the superheroes throughout the decades. Lee made cameo appearances in all films through to the 2019, aptly titled Avengers: End Game, which he filmed in 2018 prior to his death.

Lee’s fans were then left outraged earlier this year, when his former business manager was arrested over elder abuse charges relating to his former business manager. Like Rooney, Lee had been isolated, manipulated, stolen from, and lost control of decisions relating to his business affairs. While the world reeled from the news of the arrest, the public outcry against Lee’s former business manager was clear, and it seemed to stem from our deepest fear: if elder financial abuse can happen to these famous, beloved celebrities, then it can happen to us and our loved ones.

In fact, Mickey himself said as much as part of his testimony: “Elder abuse happened to me… To me, Mickey Rooney. And if it can happen to me, God willing or unwilling, it can happen to anyone”.

It’s a harrowing warning, though one that should be heeded, especially by those approaching their retirement years. In Australia, it’s estimated that up to 14% of those over the age of 65 will experience some form of elder abuse. With an aging population, that number is only going to get higher unless we start doing something about it.

What is Elder Financial Abuse?

Elder Financial Abuse is the gaining of money or assets from someone over the age of 65 through fraudulent, coercive, or otherwise immoral/illegal means. It can include, but is not limited to:

  • Forging the elderly person’s signature on checks or other documents
  • Forcing the elderly person to sign a will, deed, or power of attorney listing the perpetrator as the one who is responsible for the elderly person or who will gain when the individual dies
  • Stealing property or money from the elderly person
  • Promising to give the elderly person lifelong care only if they give them money or their property
  • Using the possessions or property of the elderly person without their permission
  • Perpetrating fraud, which is the use of trickery, false pretenses, deception or other dishonest acts in order to gain the person’s finances
  • Perpetrating cons or other confidence games in order to gain the trust of the elderly person
  • Perpetrating telemarketing scams in which the elderly person is called and deception, exaggerated claims or scare tactics are used to get the elderly person to send them money
  • Charging things against the elderly person’s credit cards without the authorization of the cardholder

Who can be an abuser?

The main perpetrators of financial abuse against the elderly can be relatives of the elderly person, their spouse, or someone else they hold in their confidence. These people will likely have the following characteristics:

  • They feel like the elderly person’s belongings are rightfully theirs, and they stand to inherit money or possessions when the elderly person dies.
  • They have financial difficulties, a tendency to gamble or have problems with illicit drugs or alcohol.
  • They may express fears that the elderly person will use up all of their savings money to care for illnesses, depriving the perpetrator of their inheritance.
  • They may feel negatively toward siblings or other family members and want to keep them from inheriting the possessions of the elderly person.

Predators may have other qualities that allow them to seek out and find vulnerable elders, intending to exploit them of their money or property. They may have these characteristics:

  • They may looking at obituaries to find those who have recently lost loved ones or may drive through neighbourhoods, looking for people who are isolated and alone.
  • They may say that they love the older person to gain their confidence.
  • They may move around to different communities in order to avoid becoming detected.
  • They may try to gain access by finding jobs caring for elderly persons or masquerading as counselors.
  • They may use trusted positions as a way to gain the confidence of the elderly person.
  • They may use unfair business practices in order to deceive the elderly person.
  • They may charge too much for products or services the elderly person needs.

Signs of Financial Abuse:

  • Cancelled checks or bank statements that go to the perpetrator’s home
  • Large bank withdrawals or transfers between different accounts that can’t be explained
  • Eviction notices, evidence of unpaid bills or utilities being discontinued due to non-payment
  • The perpetrator refers to the victim as their new “best friend”
  • The victim’s care is substandard even when they can pay for it
  • There are ATM withdrawals the victim could not have made or other unexplained withdrawals
  • The victim is coerced to sign powers of attorney or other legal documents they didn’t understand.
  • The perpetrator shows an inordinate interest in how much money the victim is spending
  • There are missing belongings or property that is missing
  • There are forgeries on legal documents or on checks
  • Financial arrangements are sketchy and lack documentation
  • The explanations about the victim’s finances as explained by the perpetrator are implausible.
  • The victim does not know or understand their own financial situation.

Who is at risk?

There are various risk factors that would put an elderly person at a higher chance of experiencing financial abuse. Characteristics of elderly people who are likely to be financial abused include:

  • They may be lonely
  • They may be isolated
  • They may have mental or physical disabilities
  • They may have lost someone recently
  • They may be unfamiliar with matters dealing with money
  • They may have relatives that are not employed but who have problems with substance abuse

What can you do?

At Andrew Rowan Wealth Management, we are committed to helping end elder financial abuse. We would like to guarantee that we will only ever operate under your informed consent, and that we will further investigate any suspicious activity or requests made on your behalf, before we act.

If you suspect that you or someone you know have become a victim of elder abuse, the good news is that there is something you can do. Australia is taking the problem extremely seriously, due to our drastically aging population.

For help and services, please click here to find resources via your State.

Alternatively, you can call, email, or come in and have a chat to Andrew or one of our friendly staff.