Elder Abuse - A Four Year Sentence
Friday, 24 April 2009 00:00

Just One More Case in Many More to Come*...

Last week The Globe and Mail (Canada’s national newspaper) carried a story about an elderly woman who had recently been used and physically abused for her money - by her daughter and only child. The daughter moved into her home and, having tied her to a chair, literally allowed her mother to rot and starve. The article suggested that we will be seeing more of the already hundreds of such (reported) cases in Canada (and the U.S.) as the economy becomes even more unstable.

A Twist on the Theme

As an advocate for the elderly for many years, I have been fighting a version of elder abuse that will no doubt be on the rise for the same (economic) reasons. It is already widespread but, due to embarrassment or the fear of being deemed mentally incompetent, the exploited do not report it. They seldom tell their own family members.

Financial Elder Abuse – You Can’t Put a Price on Lovephoto of an elderly woman

Since approximately 2003, I have been involved in a David and Goliath struggle, a financial elder abuse case very close to me that has drained my finances even more than did the recent market crisis. Amid the virtually full time occupation, other cases came to the light of day and the abuse is of a kind as old as the hills. Each case is a variation of the same. In “mine”, an elderly woman, who was lonely and who had had a difficult and isolating marriage to her recently deceased husband, had long craved the attention and affection of other adults. She got it – and paid dearly.

Just the Facts

In summary for now (I will come back to this saga at another time. Hopefully, with a satisfying resolution), a lonely elderly woman of means ended up in an emotionally intimate triangle that consisted of a “financial or estate manager” from a very reputable firm (as was the case with the other exploitative managers and their victims), and a smarter than smart, care giver new to the country. The estate manager trespassed boundaries, declared love and loyalty, and became a fixture in the woman’s home. In short, it was a soft and easy “hunt and take down”. The elderly woman’s estate was ravaged.

While the victim was living, the manager elicited the willing, if wavering and ultimately betrayed loyalty of the over-paid companion who, with and without the “estate manager”, removed a high end piano, antiques, television sets, the silver, and much more from the house, above and beyond the cash gifts that flowed to the companion to ensure and insure the unhealthily close, even quasi-abusive, emotional relationship. The companion carried her employer’s credit cards and bank card, received a loan for a retirement home and received the gift of a condo. She had regular, private meetings with the estate manager who had by then cut off all communication with the elderly woman’s family members and appointed “guardians”.

The Hit

Each – the financial gal and the companion – rejected the elderly woman when the heat was turned up by “the daughter” (the gender of the responding offspring in each case is the same, regardless of the number of children or the proportion of female to male or male to female “children”). The respondent was alerted to the fact that neighbors were being denied entry to the house, her mother could not or would not take calls, a social worker was denied entry by the care giver reading a note written by the estate manager, a seniors’ program manager contacted the daughter long distance to express concern about exploitation by the care giver and “the accountant” and more. The daughter ended up uprooted and parachuted into the midst of the damned, the damning and the damage. The bleeding (of money) slowed and the heat rose exponentially. Predictably, changes were precipitous. Soon after, on the day the estate manager “abandoned” the elderly woman, she caused a cardiac event by lunging at her client with her body and fist, stating, “You’ve ruined everything!” Witnesses were in shock.

We Are All Weird and We All Get Old

The elderly woman was a handful and always had been. However, as is the case in my own work as a psychotherapist, it behooves me to be the one who sets the boundaries and adjusts my distance for the safety of all concerned – especially and foremost, for my patients. This commonsensical element of all human relationships, but especially those between the strong and the weak and those that involve any kind of professional, personal service, where exploitation is as easy as stepping on an ant, is mandated in the code of conduct for estate and financial managers. A code of conduct presents a set of clear guidelines but with the elderly, it should be part of the criminal code and might soon be if I have my way. With the probability of nascent, if not full fledged dementia, obvious dependency, and the permission our culture gives offspring to abandon their elderly parents, it is just too easy to step into the life of an elderly individual who carries with him or her the complex needs, regrets and pains of a life time, and take advantage. Upper middle class women whose husbands ran the show and left them solvent but fiscally retarded are the key client base for these “wealth management” firms. And in addition to being stupefied by mere check writing, they are Holt Renfrew (or Saks Fifth Ave.) proud. This is a disaster already happening, but that promises to burgeon in proportion, loss, interpersonal and individual psychological damage, even early death.

The companion, who ultimately became a care giver, was the smart, even brilliant one. Not only did she play both sides by leaking key information about jaw dropping behavior on the part of her secondary benefactor (the estate manager), but she managed to benefit her and her family with material goods and cold cash that will last through her childrens’ college years. In addition, her employer (the elderly woman) unknowingly facilitated what came out later as an illegal or misrepresented process of immigration for a relative of dubious character.

Both the estate manager and the very-reputable-firm in my case displayed conduct that was both utterly immoral and illegal, but also incredibly stupid. After an expensive audit performed by a law firm that caters to the super-solvent showed unequivocal guilt, both the firm and the female estate manager aggressed, instead of caress. There was no music to be faced by the individual manager (for fear it might be heard outside the board room) and with an offer to settle with legal fees, the company, whose “logo motto” is “providing peace of mind”, “would and then would not, and then might, but wouldn’t” entertain the notion of an easy settlement. On the human level, the intensely personal relationship between the estate manager and the elderly woman, one that involved declarations of love, whispered confidences, proposals of adoption and a super-glue co-dependency ended in an “F’ you” and cold turkey elimination of (crooked) companionship. On a financial and administrative level, the elderly woman was left confused and terrified. Meanwhile, the company kept earning management fees.

Dying Cold

Two days before she died, the elderly woman was in and out of consciousness, fighting nightmares in her feverish and drug-induced state, hallucinating and still expressing her confusion. An omnipresent fear had set in before a hastened dementia that followed her to her last hours of life. In the two lucid moments in those last days, she again asked me “Why?!” She knew by then her estate had been compromised and she had been frantic about changes made or not made to her will, control over which the estate manager had taken early. But her fearful confusion, her need for an explanation, had nothing to do with having been robbed, “taken” or outright abused. Her near death machinations, her last imploring mumblings had nothing to do with money. Rather, they had to do with abandonment, rejection and the blurry, dark consequences of her emotional commitments to the tough as nails duo that took from a battered, lonely heart.

I had just left her bedside, when I was called to return. I didn’t make it in time. However, her body was still warm. Medical personnel had drawn her lids over her still brilliant blue eyes. When I leaned down and forward to place a light kiss on the body’s forehead, I noticed the pools and smudge of fresh tears gathered in the still pink sockets around her eyes. I gently wiped them to her temples with my thumb.

It happened late in each of our lives and we had worked hard and long through a seriously problematic past to get there. But she was not only my adoptive mother, she was my best friend.

The beat, the abuse, goes on.

*Anyone involved in or aware of a similar case, please email The Orion Post founder and Senior Editor, Dr. Lauren Kennedy-Smith by writing a comment in the box provided or contacting This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it . She is overseeing a documentary on the crisis of financial, elder abuse.

*And, Dr. Lauren has added, if you still have one, call your parent.

Photo by Chalmers Butterfield, obtained under creative commons license.

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