Note to Readers: The information provided in this article is a brief summary for information purposes
only and is applicable only for the Province of Ontario. It is not intended to be legal advice. Full and complete
advice can only be given by a lawyer who has detailed information about your individual circumstances.
Elder Abuse, like Domestic Violence and Drinking and Driving, has come out of the closet. It is now discussed openly, and no more do the elderly have to suffer it in silence.
Elder Abuse is any violent or abusive harm done to an older person. It may be physical, sexual, financial or mental abuse, or even neglect. It usually is committed by those the elder person is dependent on, likely family members. Often the family member is overwhelmed by looking after his or her own job and family, and then having the elder person to care for too. It can happen in nursing homes and residential care facilities by uncaring and overworked staff.
It can take the form of hitting or slapping or be of a sexual nature- this is assault and is against the law.
It can take the form of neglect or mental abuse - humiliation or insulting the elder person.
It can be financial - taking the Old Age Pension or Canada Pension cheque, using the power of attorney to take the elder person's money, paying the attorney's bills from the elder person's bank account, even outright theft.
These are all against the law.
What can you do if you are being abused? What can we do if we know someone who is being abused?
- Call Crime Stoppers, 1 800 222 8477. The Ontario Provincial Police and the municipal forces have specially trained officers who will investigate;
- For Old Age Pension and Canada Pension fraud, call 1 800 277 9914;
- Call the Public Guardian & Trustee if the abused person is incapable and serious adverse effects may result from the elder abuse. 416 327 6348.
- Ask the homecare worker to report it to her superiors, or ask for the case worker from the Community Care Access Centre Temiskaming, 544 2222.
Planning before a person becomes vulnerable helps. Proper Powers of Attorney appointing only persons in whom you have utmost faith and trust is good planning. Appointing two people to act together can prevent one from taking advantage of his or her authority. Let the family know what you want to happen if you become incapable - do you want to go to a nursing home when you cannot look after yourself? Do you want a particular family member to look after you? If so, how much should he or she be paid?
POWERS OF ATTORNEY AND ABUSE
Powers of Attorney are a wonderful thing to have. Ramsay Law Office recommends that almost everyone should have one. It would be nice to think that we will die in our sleep, fully competent to the end. Dream on. Drop over to the Lodge or the chronic care part of New Liskeard or Englehart Hospital and see how many old friends are there, incapable of looking after themselves.
A Power of Attorney for Property authorizes the attorney to manage your assets and business affairs; the Power of Attorney for Personal Care authorizes the attorney to make decisions you are incapable of making.
MacLean's Magazine in August of 1999 estimated that at least 5% of Powers of Attorney are being abused - used for the benefit of the attorney - not the person who is supposed to be looked after.
Powers of Attorney for Property can be abused openly by stealing the person's money or assets, or simply by using them to pay the occasional bill of the attorney that the attorney is short of money to cover - which is still stealing. Cashing the person's cheques and keeping the money is another abuse.
Powers of Attorney for Personal Care can be abused by overriding your own health care decisions. The law is clear: as long as you are capable of making your own decision, the attorney is not supposed to act. They can also be abused by making decisions about your health care which are not in your best interests or according to your wishes.
How to avoid abuse?
- Only appoint attorneys in whom you have complete faith and trust;
- Appoint two attorneys to act together. Two heads are better than one;
- Instruct your lawyer to hold your Power of Attorney for Property until he is satisfied that you are incapable of managing your own affairs (but this is only postponing the opportunity to abuse it);
- Revoke a Power of Attorney that is being misused. You can revoke it (cancel it) as long as you are still capable of doing so.
- Tell the Attorney for Personal Care what kind of care and decisions you want if you become incapable. Write it down and tell the rest of your family what you said and where it is.
- Educate the Attorney. Ramsay Law Office has pamphlets on the duties of Attorneys for Property and Personal Care.
New Liskeard and Englehart Public Libraries have an excellent video The Issues Behind Signing a Power of Attorney. Borrow and watch it.