Elder Abuse: Legal Aid of North Carolina Offers Tools for Self-Help

It is probably no surprise that as an attorney with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project, I often talk to seniors who have been financially exploited. What may surprise some people is that it’s often family members and caretakers, including their own children, doing the exploiting.

Many older people lose money or property not just to strangers, but also to people they know who take advantage of their relationship and obtain money or assets through theft or coercion. Understandably it’s very hard for these seniors to come forward and seek help when it means admitting that someone close to them has failed them in this way.  

Why does this happen so often? As we get older, we may become more dependent on others due to physical or mental health problems. That dependence creates opportunities for ill-intentioned caretakers or others close to us to exploit weaknesses. Add to that the increased prevalence of scams generally, and life can become a minefield for vulnerable seniors.

In honor of Elder Abuse Awareness Month and more particularly Elder Abuse Awareness Day on June 15, here are a couple of things that you can do to protect yourself as you get older.

If you are still able to make decisions and manage your affairs, now is the perfect time to think carefully about who you trust to help you if a time comes when you cannot do things for yourself.

If you know who you trust (and who you do not trust), you can set up advance directives, including a durable power of attorney and health care power of attorney, that appoint the right people to manage your affairs and make decisions on your behalf should you become unable to help yourself. Getting advance directives in place while you are able to make decisions will ensure that you’ll have the right help when you no longer are able to make decisions. 

Keep in mind that because scams are becoming increasingly sophisticated, we all need to continue learning about the latest types of scams and how to avoid them. Staying current on this topic will help to avoid being taken advantage of by strangers, family members and caregivers alike.

One resource that will help you stay up to date is AARP’s podcast, “The Perfect Scam”: https://www.aarp.org/podcasts/the-perfect-scam/. And for further information, the National Center on Elder Abuse website has a wealth of information about all types of elder abuse: https://ncea.acl.gov/.

Finally, if you are a senior who has been financially exploited or abused in any way, please know that you are far from alone and that there is help available. In addition to the resources above, Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Legal Helpline provides confidential and free legal assistance to victims of elder abuse.


About Author Jennifer Stuart is an attorney in Raleigh with Legal Aid of North Carolina’s Senior Law Project (SLP). The SLP provides free civil legal help to North Carolinians who are 60 or older. To contact the SLP, call 1-877-579-7562 (toll-free), Monday through Friday, 9-11 a.m. and 1-3 p.m.  Please keep in mind when calling this number that due to limited staffing resources, there may be a wait to talk to an intake specialist.