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Protecting the vulnerable

What can be done about financial abuse of vulnerable people? This column shows how to detect it and what to do about it.

Signs of financial abuse include:

  • Bills are left unpaid/notices of eviction or shut-off utilities arrive.
  • Unexplained withdrawals from, or transfers between, bank accounts.
  • Bank statements stop coming.
  • Valuable objects go missing.
  • Unexplained mail and credit offers.
  • Mailing address changed to somebody else’s home or office.
  • Phone number disconnected and new number unlisted.
  • Large purchases.
  • Unexplained change in the Old Age Security payment .
  • Statements made that they do not have enough money anymore for groceries or prescriptions, when previously they did.
  • The adult mentioning new names of people helping them out or reporting paying an unusually high amount for yard work or other chores.
  • Unusual gifts being given to a caregiver.
  • No response to phone calls, not answering the door.
  • Seeing the adult at the bank with someone you don’t recognize.
  • Cancellation of pre-paid funeral arrangements or life insurance policies with cash value.
  • Large cash withdrawals, cheques made out to cash, low bank balances, large credit card transactions.
  • A new best friend and isolation from other friends and family.
  • Newly formed bank accounts or names added to bank accounts.
  • Names unexpectedly added to land titles and vehicle ownership documents.
  • Changing from direct deposit of pension cheques to a paper cheque.
  • Fear of caregivers or others who assist the adult.

Many of the events described above can be properly done by somebody who has been given a power of attorney. But when there are signs that a vulnerable adult is being abused, either by the person with power of attorney or someone else, a number of steps can be taken.

Talk frankly to the adult with other family members and/or professionals who know the adult and are trusted.

If appropriate, assist the adult to ask the person with power of attorney to give a full accounting.

A power of attorney can be revoked by the adult, he has the mental capacity to do so, or by the court. He can also resign.

Obtain consents of the adult to get information from banks, doctors and other professionals. If abuse is suspected, alert banks and other institutions.

In most provinces, the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee can assist. In Saskatchewan, that office can help get an accounting from a power of attorney, conduct an investigation, and where deemed necessary, freeze an adult’s accounts pending an investigation.

Court applications are possible to remove powers of attorney and appoint guardians in their place. Police investigations can also take place where warranted.

These steps must be taken carefully and wisely so a lawyer’s help is strongly recommended.

For more information, see the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee in Saskatchewan’s booklet, Minimizing the Risk of Financial Harm to Vulnerable Adults.

Note: This is Gail Wartman’s last column. We wish to thank her for sharing her legal expertise with Western Producer readers.

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