It is estimated that 185,000 older people in Australia experience some form of abuse or neglect each year. Abuse of older people can happen both inside and outside the home. It can also involve those who we love and trust. It can be challenging to identify abuse, as there is no single type of older person who is at risk, and no single type of person who may cause harm. Abuse can be deliberate or unintentional.

Anecdotal evidence suggests that financial abuse is the most prevalent form, but it frequently co-occurs with one or more of the other recognised forms of abuse of older people. Examples of financial abuse are misusing an older person’s money, selling a home without the older person’s consent, or transferring ownership of their property at below fair value.

All governments in Australia are working together on a national plan to address the emerging and growing problem in our ageing population. One of the aims of the plan is to empower all older Australians to live with their preferred level of autonomy and have a say in decisions that affect their day-to-day life.

Protect Yourself Through Substitute Decision-Making

In addition to having an up-to-date Will, there are a range of arrangements that you can put in place to prepare for decision-making in your later years, covering financial, medical and lifestyle matters. To make the most of the opportunities a longer life provides, Australians need to prepare early by understanding what these arrangements are, and how best to use them at different stages of life.

  • General Power of Attorney – Allows one or more person to act for you in financial or legal matters, such as buying or selling your property or shares, operating your bank accounts, spending money on your behalf. The Power of Attorney is only effective while you have the capacity to make and communicate decisions for yourself. This would be appropriate, for example, if you were on an extended trip overseas.
  • Enduring Power of Attorney – Allows your representative to make financial, and in some states personal, decisions on your behalf. Enduring powers continue if you lose the ability to make decisions or have diminished decision-making capacity. If you do not have an arrangement in place prior to losing decision-making capacity, the opportunity to appoint someone is gone. Applications to tribunals or boards may need to be made so that they can appoint someone to act on your behalf.
  • Advanced Health / Care Directives – An advance health directive, or advance care directive, is a statement that sets out a person’s directions before medical treatment decisions are made on their behalf. Advance health / care directives are only effective if the principal has lost capacity to make decisions about healthcare matters.

Formalise Agreements Within Families

Another measure that you can take, is to formalise with a lawyer, any arrangements made within families. For example, loans to family members should be documented in a loan agreement. “Granny flat” or co-habitation arrangements should be agreed upon and documented in a legal agreement. These serve to protect your rights down the track, if circumstances change.

If you would like to discuss your Estate Plan, or substitute-decision making arrangements, please do not hesitate to make contact with Ranu Jas, or myself on (02) 9908 9888.