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Protecting against financial elder abuse

Arizona protects incapacitated adults through guardianships that allow a trusted person, often a family member, to take over their business and financial decisions. Guardians and others, however, can violate their important legal responsibilities.

The guardian can improperly use their power over the protected person's finances for their own benefit. This financial abuse has several warning signs. First, the guardian uses their guardianship authority to transfer property for their own benefit. It is also suspicious when a guardian approves frequent and unexplained cash withdrawals from the protected accounts.

Guardians may also receive personal payments from the protected adult or use or borrow entrusted property without court authorization. A guardian's unexplained decisions, which are not in the protected person's interest, are another sign.

To guard against this, families should meet periodically to assure that their older relative's needs are properly protected. A trusted relative should also obtain financial and health care power of attorney authority.

A power of attorney helps ensure that a responsible and trusted person can make important decisions. Importantly, the protected person can decide who will receive this authority and its extent while they are still competent to make decisions. More than one family member should be appointed under a power of attorney as another protection.

Family members should also watch who older relatives speak to and their business transactions. The elderly and incapacitated, unfortunately, are prime targets for deplorable financial scams. These include everything from healthcare, home remodeling and even federal taxes.

An elder law attorney can help prepare estate planning documents that govern numerous contingencies, protect a person's interests and meet their needs. Experienced lawyers may also help concerned family members undergo the complex guardianship appointment procedures and meet the state's legal requirements.

Source: Forbes, "5 ways to spot and stop elder abuse," John Wasik, March 30, 2018

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