A British Columbia nurse was fined by the College of registered nurses in the amount of $17,500, plus ordered to pay investigation costs of $16,500 for financial abuse of an elderly couple, now deceased.
The nurses misdeeds included being the couple’s power of attorney, putting her name on title to their mobile home, paying for her dentistry, vision care and $1600 a month medications, all on top of her monthly salary.
The nurses college rather understatedly reported that she “failed to maintain appropriate boundaries in her seeking of substantial financial benefits from an informed client.”
One of the concerns expressed by the nurses college was that with an aging population with many having significant assets, there is a healthcare worker staff shortage and caregivers may be hired that are somewhat “circumspect”.
Many of our aging population have both the desire and the financial means to remain living in their homes for as long as physically or mentally possible, which gives more opportunity for financial abuse or physical neglect by a devious caregiver.
The convicted nurse raised the somewhat laughable defence that she was merely providing personal care, as opposed to nursing care to the couple. The college of nurses however found that helping the couple with their daily bowel functions and dressings for wound care is indeed part of nursing care.
A caregiver can be loosely defined as anyone who cares for a person who cannot care for him or herself.
The caregiver typically assist the patient or dependent person with activities in daily life.
Every experienced estate litigation lawyer has come across situations of financial abuse undertaken by caregivers who invariably become personally involved, even romantically, with their much older and typically infirmed patients.
The elderly, infirmed and disabled members of our society make up the majority of those who need, use, and depend on caregiving services. They are vulnerable and typically frail and elderly, and the caregivers knowingly take advantage of their weakness and infiltrate their lives and seek and obtain financial gain.
The more informed and dependent the elderly patient is, the more likely the caregiver will have access to and utilize the elderly person’s financial information, records and accounts.
2 Types of financial abuse committed by caregivers:
1. Financial theft, forgery and embezzlement
These are probably the most common forms of caregiver financial abuse. The caregiver typically has access to and opportunity to review financial documents and records, and to undertake financial transactions, such as banking and the payment of bills.
The financial abuse may start by simply taking a few dollars in cash here and there and progress to forging signatures on cheques or manipulating the elderly person into signing cheques or agreements that benefit the fraudulent caregiver at the expense of the patient.
From a legal perspective, it would be very unwise to grant a caregiver a power of attorney or to allow them to control their financial investments- this should be left to a trusted family member or professional fiduciary.
All to often an unscrupulous caregiver preys upon the trusted nature of elders to gain access to financial information and then use fraud to commit financial abuse.
2. Property theft
It is not uncommon for family members to start noticing that certain personal effects go missing from the elderly person’s residence. This may start off with things such as coin collections and range up to the theft of valuable goods or even the misappropriation of real property.
Elders who live in relative isolation from close family members or loved ones are most vulnerable to such theft. The family member may notice for example that the car is still in the driveway, but not know that registration of the car has been transferred to the caregiver.
Fraudulent caregivers will work hard to create the illusion to the family and the patient of earned trust and competence.
I have come across more than one caregiver who has made a good living out of fleecing elderly and unsuspecting patients.
Caregiver financial fraud: 13 red flags to watch for
1. Any attempt to isolate or prevent the patient from speaking to family or third parties;
2. becoming too friendly and/or romantically involved with the elderly patient;
3. asking for legal authority such as banking privileges or a power of attorney;
4. accessing personal documents such as a will, financial accounts, investment accounts and the like;
5. withholding medical information from the family;
6. withholding financial information from the family;
7. overstepping normal expected boundaries of a caregiver;
8. suggesting opening new financial accounts or the transfer of existing ones
9. receiving “gifts” more than token value;
10. asking for donations to their favourite charity
11. participating in identity theft, such as obtaining social insurance numbers or credit card pin numbers;
12. asking to be joint holder on a bank account;
13. words or actions to the effect that the caregiver makes the older adult believe that he or she is special or lucky to be chosen by the caregiver to receive their care