Trustees can act to foil financial abuse

15-Aug-2016

By Jerome Doraisamy

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Independent trustee companies were in a unique position to provide systematic protection against financial abuse of the elderly, according to an asset management trustee and executor firm.

Equity Trustees managing director Mick O’Brien said such entities were responsible for providing impartial and independent support to protect the wealth of individuals, no matter their situation or their current capacity.

Speaking to financialobserver, Equity Trustees general manager of philanthropic services Tabitha Lovett described elder abuse as a single or repeated act, which often included financial abuse, occurring in a relationship by someone in a position of trust.

“Financial elder abuse can include being or feeling compelled to give money or in extreme cases sign over the title of property, shares, or make significant purchases for others,” Lovett said.

“In the worst instances it can strip a vulnerable person of all their assets they have built over a lifetime to sustain them in their ageing years.

“This is compounded by the fact that it happens at the hands of someone they trust.”

Vulnerable ageing people could also be pressured to change their wills and bequeath assets to new friends or in favour of particular relatives, which unfortunately was common, she said.

“In [these instances] our estate planning team is able to have regard to previous wills and patterns of giving, and ensure the client’s instructions are not being given under duress or undue influence,” she said.

Independent trustees were able to combat or proactively prevent such abuse if appointed through power of attorney and therefore would be authorised to act and protect that person’s assets held in trust, she said.

“This appointment can take effect when[ever] the individual decides – and have it written into the terms, for example, if they lose capacity through illness or ageing,” she said.

“This would mean that anyone seeking to take advantage of the individual who has become vulnerable would need to get past the trustee first – and our role is always to act as instructed by the client and in the client’s best interests.”

O’Brien supported this, noting the importance of having appropriate structures in place.

“Particularly in a time when family structures are increasingly complex, many see the benefits of an independent financial power of attorney or the appointment of an independent executor in their will,” he said.

“Our clients largely want to avoid putting that burden on a friend or family member – and many simply want to feel secure that their affairs will be managed exactly as they intended, especially if they lose capacity or feel at risk of being pressured by family members.”

That approach was crucial in attempting to protect the wealth of those who might be subject to elder abuse for financial gain, he said.

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