World Elder Abuse Awareness Day is certainly one we all wish did not require special attention on our calendars. Unfortunately, it does. Every year an estimated 5 million older Americans are victims of elder abuse, neglect, or exploitation. And that’s only part of the picture: Experts believe that for every case of elder abuse or neglect reported, as many as 23 cases go unreported. Elder abuse can take many forms: verbal, physical, financial. Today is the day we as advocates for the elderly can take a moment to remember a few steps we can take for our clients to discover and stop elder abuse.
First, we must listen to our clients. Clients are often brought into our office by their children or another family member. As part of our ethical practice, we should always take an opportunity to speak to our elderly clients alone, explain to them the confidential nature of our attorney-client relationship and allow them the opportunity to tell us any information they may not be comfortable disclosing in front of the person who brought them into the office. Affording our elderly clients the opportunity to confidentially trust in us can often bring feelings and issues to the table that could otherwise go unnoticed.
Second, we can recommend that caregivers find the necessary time to take care of themselves. Caregivers are full-time nurses, cooks, housekeepers, and sitters. Statistics show that a large percentage of elder physical abuse takes place because of caregivers feeling overwhelmed. We can gather information about caregiver support groups in our area and provide that list to the caregivers entering our office. Providing information and understanding to caregivers allows them to know that our offices are there for them when they reach a point where they feel they cannot continue on.
Third, we can monitor the trusts created for our clients as Trust Protectors. This is a wonderful way to use the LWP maintenance plans to benefit the clients we love. As Trust Protector we can assure that the assets our clients worked so hard for are being used as they intended and in a fashion that represents their best interests. When a trustee is abusing his or her authority, we can step in and protect the assets our clients have entrusted us to protect.
Finally, we can educate our communities. We can reach out to community groups and organizations and speak to them about the signs of elder abuse, the importance of caregivers’ own health and well-being, the standards Attorneys-in-fact and Trustees are held to, and what signs to look for in our loved ones who are being cared for outside of the home. We can arm clients and community members with the names of their local ombudsman and elder abuse agencies.
So today, I hope each of us takes the opportunity to think of one thing we can do to stop elder abuse. Wouldn’t it be nice if this was a day we never have to “celebrate” again?
If you want to learn more about becoming a Lawyers With Purpose member, click here and give us a little information about yourself. You will then be able to download the Membership Brochure.
Kimberly Brannon, Esq., Software and Legal-Technical Trainer - Lawyers With Purpose