On 20 November 2020 new laws in the ACT criminalising elder abuse come into effect, the first of their kind in Australia.
These new laws criminalise conduct that results in physical, psychological or financial harm to a vulnerable person, where the conduct is perpetrated by the person responsible for the care of that vulnerable person.
A ‘vulnerable person’ is defined as someone who is over the age of 60 or someone who has a disability for the purpose of the laws.
The new laws also make it a criminal offence for a person responsible for the care of a vulnerable person to fail to provide the vulnerable person with the necessities of life, if their failure causes serious harm to the vulnerable person.
In most other states, including NSW, the conduct described above will generally be captured by existing criminal offences relating to physical, sexual and financial abuse. However, the institution of new laws specifically targeted to protect vulnerable persons reflects community sentiments that more needs to be done to protect vulnerable persons.
The unfortunate reality of elder abuse is that it is often a family member or close friend who becomes a perpetrator. The term ‘inheritance impatience’ is often thrown around in these cases – when a family member or friend uses an elderly person’s funds for their own purposes due to some pre-emptive sense of ownership of the money – and it is one of the leading causes for financial abuse of a parent by a child.
The best safeguard that someone can put in place to protect against elder abuse is to make an enduring power of attorney and enduring guardianship specifying who will make financial and healthcare decisions for you once you lose capacity to make these decisions for yourself. As an added measure of protection, you can appoint a number of people who must act together as your attorney or guardian jointly, so that the decisions and conduct of one person can be vetted by the other persons you have appointed.
If you have concerns about someone experiencing elder abuse, or would like to speak to someone about making a power of attorney or enduring guardianship, please telephone our office on (02) 4943 3988 to speak to one of our estate planning lawyers. We have years of experience helping people throughout the Newcastle, Lake Macquarie and Hunter region.