Federal and state governments have established power of attorney reforms as a further step to prevent financial elder abuse.
The Council of Attorneys General has agreed to implement a mandatory national online register of enduring power of attorney documents and to work on further safeguarding provisions.
The register will ensure enduring power of attorney documents are legitimate and current.
A coalition to fight elder financial abuse, backed by the Australian Banking Association (ABA) and other industry organisations have been calling on the government for a long time to implement the register.
Anna Bligh chief executive of the ABA says: “A mandatory national online register will help bank staff check to ensure a power of attorney is valid and up to date when a customer comes into a branch to complete transactions on someone else’s behalf.”
Jessica Latimer, special counsel at Moores, says trusted people often perpetrate elder financial abuse on their family members or friends but if that person is swapped for a stranger it would be known as theft.
Latimer shared that she had a client who had jointly appointed power of attorneys. One attorney was withdrawing up to $80,000 cash per week from the client’s bank account dishonestly.
By the time it was identified by the other attorney, $1.8 million had been withdrawn and the client was living in a four person shared nursing home room because he could not afford to buy his way into a private room.
Kay Patterson, Age Discrimination Commissioner says the register is a step towards preventing elder financial abuse.
Brendan French, executive general manager, customer and community advocacy at Commonwealth Bank has been in support of an attorney register. He says that his focus has been on preventing abuse as it is difficult to deal with after it has happened.
French says: “If you go to a bank branch with a power of attorney, we don’t know if it’s the most recent one. So we can only act on the information we get.”
The Financial Service Council (FSC) launched a guide for non-banking financial services to identify, address and prevent the financial abuse of their older clients and customers.
The FSC defines elder financial abuse as any activity by an individual that seeks to use fraudulent, illegal, deceptive or otherwise improper acts or processes to advantage from the financial resources of an older or elderly individual.
The FSC says advantage can include personal profit or gain, enabling profit or gain for a relative, friend, spouse or business associate, or deprivation of the right of an older or elderly individual to access benefits, resources, belongings or assets for any reason.
Elder abuse is more prominent than ever. Attorney-General Christian Porter estimates that as many as 185,000 older people experience some form of abuse or neglect nationally each year.
CBA’s French says when he started at the bank 12 years ago it was an occasional terrible story and now it is a lot more prevalent.
The coalition to fight elder financial abuse is calling for uniform power of attorney laws across the country and somewhere for people to report abuse in each state that can investigate and act.