In 2020, Brian Litwak received a letter from Medicare stating that he was suspended from the program because he had not paid his Medicare fees for five months. This was just the beginning of the nightmare for Litwak, who also discovered his assets had been whittled down from $250,000 to $12,000 after moving into an assisted living facility. Litwak soon realized that he was the victim of financial elder abuse at the hands of his brother, who was his power of attorney. Litwak’s brother stole much of his assets and neglected to pay his Medicare fees.
The statistics of financial elder abuse are staggering. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that more than 500,000 older Americans suffer from financial elder abuse annually. Moreover, this number is likely higher due to the many Americans who suffer from such abuse and do not, or cannot, report it. This number is apt to continue to increase, as those 65 and older will make up 20 percent of the population by 2050. The World Health Organization also found that 13.8 percent of older adults reported financial abuse in an institutional setting.
The consequences of elder abuse are very real. The National Council on Aging estimates that elder financial abuse and fraud costs older Americans $2.9 billion to $36.5 billion annually. Moreover, elderly Americans suffering from elder abuse often experience significantly higher levels of psychological distress than older individuals who have not experienced abuse.
As in Litwak’s situation, a victim’s family members are the most common perpetrators of financial elder abuse. However, abuse can also occur at the hands of many different individuals, such as staff members at care facilities, friends, and con artists.
If you are concerned that you could one day be a victim of elder abuse, consider speaking with an estate planning attorney. You can include various safeguards within your estate plan that will help protect you and insure that you are taken care of by people that you trust. These safeguards include naming a healthcare power of attorney to handle your medical decisions when you are unable to do so yourself. You can also transfer your assets into a trust and name a panel of trustees to handle your financial affairs so that no one trustee has the ability to misuse your property.