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Elder Mistreatment: Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation in an Aging America
mately misappropriate funds for themselves as the elder person’s cognitive abilities decline (Dessin, 2000). Typically, financial abuse in a domestic setting reflects a pattern of behavior rather than a single event and occurs over a lengthy period of time (National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, 2001; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). Determining when financial abuse began can be very difficult (Smith, 1999).
Finally, a number of commentators have asserted that whether financial abuse is considered to have occurred should reflect the elder person’s perception of the purported abuse and the cultural context in which it takes place (Moon, 2000; Nerenberg, 2000a; Sanchez, 1996; Wolf, 2000; see generally Tatara, 1999). For example, attitudes about the legitimacy of a transfer may reflect expectations within a given culture that elderly persons will share their resources with family members in need, while other cultures reject this notion (Brown, 1999; Moon, 2000; Nerenberg, 2000a). Studies have shown considerable variation in what constitutes financial abuse across cultural, racial, and ethnic groups (Brown, 1999; Hudson and Carlson, 1999; Moon, 2000; Nerenberg, 2000a), and it has been argued that a failure to take into account these differences undercuts efforts to assess financial abuse of the elderly (Sanchez, 1996).12
TYPES OF FINANCIAL ABUSE OF THE ELDERLY
In efforts to address financial abuse of the elderly, advocates for the elderly often delineate typical examples of this abuse.13 Examples specifically relevant to a domestic setting and financial abuse by individuals relatively well known to the elder person include:
taking, misusing, or using without knowledge or permission money or property (Dessin, 2000; National Center on Elder Abuse, 2001; National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, 2001; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001);
forging or forcing an elder person’s signature (National Center on Elder Abuse, 2001; National Clearinghouse on Family Violence, 2001; National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001);
abusing joint signature authority on a bank account (Rush and Lank, 2000);
At the same time, the law places considerable weight on the importance of establishing requisite standards of behavior that are uniform, consistent, and predictable across groups of individuals.
For a lengthy list of specific examples of financial exploitation, see U.S. Congress (1981).