Vancouver – In recognition of World Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, BC Notaries are bringing attention to the often hidden but prevalent problem of older people being physically, emotionally or financially abused at the hands of strangers, acquaintances and even family members.
Elder abuse is a significant concern in British Columbia where 18.3 percent of BC’s population is 65 or older, compared to the national average of 16.9 percent. Seven of the 10 Canadian municipalities with the largest share of people over age 85 are in BC.
Consequently, BC Notaries help many seniors ensure their financial or real estate assets are safeguarded so they don’t fall victim to a scammer, and to make their wishes clear and legally documented for a time when they can’t make decisions for themselves.
“A lot of older seniors we meet are worried about giving up their independence, and realize that creating a Power of Attorney, healthcare directives and a Will empower them and ensure their wishes are followed and interests are protected,” said Tammy Morin Nakashima, President of BC Notaries and Steveston Notary. “If seniors don’t have a family member nearby or are concerned about encumbering them with these responsibilities, a Notary can also provide guidance in appointing professionals to certain roles.”
The following can help protect elder adults’ interests:
- Create a Power of Attorney
The person with Power of Attorney—a designation to manage finances and legal affairs—should be well-known, trustworthy and accountable to the older adult, and involve that person in the decision-making process. In cases of financial abuse, this does not happen. A BC Notary can help clarify and designate the Attorney’s roles and responsibilities. If there is a question around whether the older adult fully understands the arrangement, then a Notary can request an assessment. One way a senior can avoid such a situation is to create a Power of Attorney while independent and of sound mind.
2. Create a Representation Agreement
In cases where the older adult may have diminished capacity and cannot make a Power of Attorney, they may still be capable of making a special Representation Agreement, called a Section 7 Agreement. This type of agreement provides a designated individual with authority that typically includes minor and major health care, personal care and living arrangements, but can also include legal affairs and routine management of financial affairs. A Notary Public can advise you on the best approach for your needs, and create the appropriate agreement.
3. Set up a joint bank account
A joint bank account for a senior and a trusted family member or close friend provides a second set of eyes monitoring for any suspicious transactions, such as large cash withdrawals that could occur as a result of a scam or fraud. It is imperative, however, to seek advice first from a Notary or other legal counsel because this “joint tenancy” could unintentionally completely alter the individual’s estate plan.
BC Notaries are highly trained to ensure a client is making their own decisions of sound mind. That is why they conduct private interviews with individuals to discuss their planning documents, such as a Will, Power of Attorney or Representation Agreement.
“We often work with seniors and their loved ones to create legal documents that help to protect them from becoming victims of fraud,” said David Watts, a Notary in downtown Vancouver. “Unfortunately, while many people assume most abusers are strangers, in actual fact it’s too-often a family member pressuring a grandparent, parent or other elderly family member for money.”
Financial abuse includes loans to family or friends that aren’t paid back, forging a signature on documents, making unauthorized withdrawals from the senior’s bank account or unauthorized charges on their credit card, and getting an older person to sign a Will or Power of Attorney through deception or coercion. This situation may be prevented through assigning a trusted person with Power of Attorney.
If you have concerns about an isolated elderly person living alone and at risk, or you believe that an Attorney or representative is misusing a Power of Attorney, you can report this to the Office of the Public Guardian and Trustee.
There are several resources available to help seniors suffering from physical, emotional or financial abuse. If you believe fraud is happening, call the local police. In BC, there are also numerous agencies that provide support – the Community Response Network in each community has a list of local agencies that can help, depending on the nature of the abuse.
The Society of Notaries Public of BC represents more than 365 highly-trained Notary professionals. Most Notaries have locally owned and operated offices and all provide personal assistance to clients around the province. Individuals, families and businesses seek the services of BC Notaries for a wide range of non-contentious legal matters, including residential and commercial real estate transfers, mortgage refinancing, Wills and advanced healthcare planning, Powers of Attorney, and other important documents.
The Notary’s Tradition of Trust spans 2000 years. Notaries first came to British Columbia over 100 years ago. They continue to serve their valued clients and their communities across the province. For more information, or to find a Notary near you, please visit www.notaries.bc.ca.