Infantilising older women to disguise financial abuse

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What would make a man eulogise about his dead father at his mother’s funeral and then propose a toast to his “mother and father”?

This eulogy was more than your garden-variety misogyny. It was misogyny on steroids.

Listening to the eulogy, I was transported back to the to the Victorian era. In those days, a wife lost her personal identity when she acquired her husband’s name. A wife became her husband’s property, his chattel.

Victorian marriage and property laws stipulated that a married woman did not have a separate legal existence from her husband. A married woman was a dependent, like an underage child or a slave, and could not own property in her own name or control her own money.

The laws changed over a hundred years ago. Thankfully so too did attitudes towards married women. Older women may be the last bastion of Victorian traditions.

Some older women are treated like an underage child after their husband dies. They are encouraged to appoint a financial power of attorney because older women, particularly those who have not been the family’s breadwinner, are assumed to be incapable of managing their own financial affairs. Not only is this patronising but also it disempowers older women.

The ultimate act of disempowerment is when an older woman is declared legally incapable. According to the Office of the Public Advocate, older women are more likely to be declared legally incapable than older men. This may be due to the fact that women live longer than men. It may also suggest that older men are revered while older women are infantilised.

Once an older woman is declared legally incapable, an enduring power of attorney, both financial and medical, is appointed. The financial powers of attorney take complete control of their mother’s financial affairs. The older woman is then transported back to the Victorian era. She loses control of her own money, just like a young child.

Financial powers of attorney are required to act in the older woman’s best interest. If they don’t, it is financial elder abuse.

There is little reliable data on the extent of financial elder abuse. State Trustees Victoria found that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse. They found that adult sons were the most common perpetrators of financial elder abuse.

Financial elder abuse may begin with the best intentions – with children acting as their mother’s financial power of attorney thereby managing her finances. This can quickly progress to a sense of entitlement, particularly when adult children have mortgages or debts.

In some families, children are not willing to wait for their inheritance until after their mother dies. They assume what was once ‘Mum and Dad’s money’ is now their money, not their mothers’ money. They may even curtail the amount of money their mother spends.

There have been several high-profile trust fund disputes in which sons have sued their mothers. In one case, a former pupil of a private boys school in Sydney sued his mother after the family estate was left to his mother rather than to him. This “old boy” was castigated by the judge for having a “highly developed and unhealthy sense of entitlement“.

Financial elder abuse is currently not a criminal offence in Australia. It is treated as a private issue, like family violence was treated during the Victorian era – before the work feminists did to make it a public issue. For financial elder abuse to become a criminal offence, attitudes towards older people, particularly older women, need to change.

 

 

The rise – and risk – of ‘early inheritance syndrome’

Children with early inheritance syndrome feel a sense of entitlement to their parents’ assets. They are not prepared to wait until their parents die. These impatient children seek ways for their parents to give them money, or interfere in the management of their parents’ assets to protect what they see as their entitlement.

To read more http://www.theage.com.au/comment/the-rise–and-risk–of-early-inheritance-syndrome-20170613-gwq42d.html

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Financial elder abuse is family violence. Research shows that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse, with adult sons being the most common perpetrators.  It is often a silent crime – unreported and unacknowledged. Like all silent crimes perpetrated mostly against women, financial abuse will be difficult to police.

Claudia Castle’s examples demonstrate that the opportunities for children to act inappropriately are enormous. There are no formal mechanisms to ensure that financial powers of attorney act in an older person’s best interest.

Boomers with early inheritance syndrome feel a sense of entitlement to their parents’ assets. They make ageist and sexist assumptions that devalue the rights of their elderly parents. They often justify their actions by saying: ”Mum doesn’t need money now, and it’s going to be mine anyway.”

For financial elder abuse to become a criminal offence, attitudes towards older people, particularly older women, need to change.

Sarah Russell

Greedy son syndrome

Letter, The Age

Financial elder abuse is family violence. Senior Law suggests the contributing factor is ageism rather than gender (Domestic violence victims not just women). However, research shows that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse, with adult sons being the most common perpetrators.

Some children assume that older women, particularly those who have not been the family’s breadwinner, are unable to manage their own finances. After the father dies, they encourage their mother to appoint a financial power of attorney, often a son. In some cases, the mother is declared legally incapable.

Children with ‘Early Inheritance Syndrome’ feel a sense of entitlement to their mothers’ assets. These impatient children will actively seek ways for their mothers to give them money. They claim: “Mum doesn’t need money, and it’s going to be mine anyway.”

Some greedy children keep their eyes peeled on the Bank of Mum. They curtail her expenses, such as money she spends on holidays, carers and Kingston biscuits. They protect what they see as their entitlement.

The financial abuse of older women is on a continuum of violence towards women. It should be a criminal offence.

Sarah Russell, Northcote

 

 

 

Keeping an eye on the bank of Mum

Australians are living longer and living richer than at any time in our history. The Intergenerational Report predicts that 40,000 people will celebrate their 100th birthday in 2055. Some older women will enjoy their wealth – travelling the world, with their luggage broadcasting that they are ‘spending their children’s inheritance’. Others will live in an aged care facility while their children keep their eyes peeled on the ‘Bank of Mum’.

State Trustees Victoria report ‘For Love or Money: intergenerational management of older Victorians’ assets’ shows that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse. This research found that adult sons are the most common perpetrators.

Financial elder abuse involves taking or misusing an older person’s money, property or assets. Studies confirm that financial abuse is the fastest-growing type of abuse of older women. So much so that Senior Rights Victoria suggested the terms of reference for the Royal Commission into Family Violence should include elder abuse.

When a father dies, some adult children assume what was once ‘Mum and Dad’s money’ is now their money, not their mothers’. They are not willing to wait for their inheritance until after their mothers die. Children with ‘Early Inheritance Syndrome’ feel a sense of entitlement to their mothers’ assets.

These impatient children will actively seek ways for their mothers to ‘gift’ them money, or will interfere in the management of their parents’ assets to protect what they see as their entitlement. They will keep a close eye on their mother’s assets and curtail her expenses, such as money she spends on holidays and carers.

According to the Office of the Public Advocate, older women are also more likely to be declared legally incapable than older men. This may be due to the fact that women live longer than men. Some children assume that older women, particularly those who have not been the family’s breadwinner, are unable to manage their own finances. After the father dies, they encourage their mother to appoint a financial power of attorney, often a son.

Children with ‘Early Inheritance Syndrome’ make assumptions that devalue the rights of older women.

  1. “Mum doesn’t need money, and it’s going to be mine anyway.”

In cases of financial elder abuse, this is the most common justification given for taking a mother’s money whilst she is alive.

  1. “Mum finds talking about her finances stressful.”

Some children believe that their mother finds discussions about financial issues complex and stressful. This is not only patronising but it also disempowers older women to make choices about how their money is spent.

  1. “Having a large amount of money does not improve Mum’s quality of life.

Most of us take comfort in the security of having savings in the bank. Why are older women different?

  1. “Mum will be no worse off after gifting her money to her children”.

This statement is absurd. By gifting money to their children, the children are better off at the expense of their mother. The less money an elderly woman has, the less money she will be able to spend on herself. 

  1. “Reducing Mum’s income will reduce her fees at the aged care facility”.

Lower fees at the aged care facility means more money for the beneficiaries of the will (i.e. the children). However, many older women may appreciate the care that they receive in an aged care facility, and are happy to pay higher fees for receiving good care.

  1. “Reducing Mum’s income will reduce the amount of tax she needs to pay”

Gifting money to children will result in Mum paying less tax. This may be a good thing for the children, but certainly not for society.

  1. “Mum’s current will cannot be changed”.

Most people change their wills throughout their lives as their circumstances change. Why are older women different? Spending years in an aged care facility may change an older woman’s ideas about how the money is distributed after she dies. She may prefer to give some money to Doctors without Borders, The Lost Dogs Home, or even a kind nurse at the aged care facility. This is her decision, not her children’s.

  1. “By gifting money to the children, this gift reduces their children’s loans and interest payments on these loans.” 

Should middle-age professional people expect their elderly mother to assist them to manage their ‘lifestyle choices’?

Financial elder abuse may begin with the best intentions – with an elderly woman asking a child to act as her financial power of attorney. This can quickly progress to a sense of entitlement, particularly when adult children have mortgages or debts.

There is little reliable data on the extent of financial elder abuse. It is often a silent crime – unreported and unacknowledged. Although the banking industry has introduced initiatives to help prevent this silent crime, financial elder abuse remains difficult to police.

Published in Online Opinion

Elderly women deserve their age of respect

Something remarkable is afoot. The Victorian Chief Commissioner of Police, Ken Lay, and the Chief of the Australian Army, Lieutenant General David Morrison, are talking publicly about male attitudes towards women. On the Victorian Police website, Ken Lay suggests that “our culture is filled with men who hold an indecent sense of entitlement towards women”.

Ken Lay and David Morrison are both middle-aged men in charge of organisations with masculine cultures. They are not your typical feminists. Although many men treat women respectfully, these men go one step further by viewing social issues through ‘gender goggles’. It is a giant step.

Gender goggles are illuminating. They bring into clear focus the fact that a person’s gender influences attitudes and behaviours towards them. Gender goggles highlight issues for women such as discrimination, human rights abuses, domestic violence, rape, glass ceilings, inadequate childcare, political underrepresentation, catcalling, bullying and financial disadvantage such as unfair pay and unequal superannuation.

Unlike rose coloured glasses and beer goggles that provide optimistic perceptions, gender goggles are not a frivolous fashion accessory. Ken Lay’s gender goggles enable him to see that some people perceive women as “less valuable than men”. This perception applies to women of all ages, including older women.

When gender goggles are applied to older women, particularly women who have not been the family’s breadwinner, they may show the humiliation of financial elder abuse. Studies confirm that financial abuse is the most common, and fastest-growing, type of abuse of older women.

Research shows that women over the age of 80 are most at risk of financial elder abuse. This research found that adult sons are the most common perpetrators. Some adult sons assume that money that was once ‘Mum and Dad’s money’ is now their money, even though their mothers are alive and well. They make assumptions that devalue the rights of their mothers.

There have been several high profile trust fund disputes in which sons have sued their mothers. A former pupil of a private boys school in Sydney sued his mother after the family estate was left to his mother rather than to him. This ‘old boy’ was castigated by Justice Michael Pembroke for having a ”highly developed and unhealthy sense of entitlement”.

According to the Office of the Public Advocate, older women are more likely to be declared legally incapable than older men. This may be due to the fact that women live longer than men. It may also suggest that older men are revered whilst older women are infantilised. This was certainly the case in Julie’s family.

Julie is a middle-aged woman with five older brothers. With unseemly haste, a few days after her father’s death, a GP was asked to declare Julie’s elderly mother legally incapable. That she was bewildered, grieving and in the first weeks of widowhood after 50 years of marriage did not seem to have been taken into account.

After Julie’s mother was declared legally incapable, the youngest son became her financial power of attorney. Tony’s job was to manage his mother’s estate in her best interest. Determining what was in his mother’s best interest was contested. Was it in their mother’s best interest to keep money in the bank and continue to pay tax? Or should the children receive an early inheritance? Questions such as these divided Julie’s siblings.

The eldest son, Christopher, organised frequent financial family planning meetings. Christopher was planning his own retirement and unashamedly cast his eyes towards the Bank of Mum rather than towards his own financial planning. Julie questioned why these meetings were not convened prior to her father’s death, particularly when their father’s cognitive status was diminishing. Her question fell on deaf ears.

Tony prepared a financial spreadsheet describing ‘Mum’s assets’, sharing this spreadsheet amongst his siblings. Would a financial spreadsheet with “Dad’s assets” have been shared in the same way if their mother had died first? Of course not.

Then came the zinger. Julie was told that her mother’s monthly expenses were excessive. Julie’s sister-in-law explained to her: “Your brothers are worried about their inheritance. What’s wrong with that?” Gob-smacking stuff.

Julie went into full feminist flight to show her brothers, their wives and anyone else who would listen exactly what was wrong. She defended her mother’s right to spend her own money. Julie argued that their father would have wanted his wife to have as much lemon squash, cheddar cheese, milk chocolate and shortbread biscuits as she wants.

Two brothers supported her; the other three bunkered down, ensconced in their men’s club with others who share their views. These brothers refused to engage with Julie. They simply dismissed Julie’s views as offensive, describing her as mad and bad, as powerful men often do.

Julie’s gender goggles gave her clarity. On every issue, she asked her brothers a simple question: “Would you have treated our father like this?” However, her three older brothers had stopped listening years ago.

Perhaps Julie’s brothers will listen to The Victorian Chief Commissioner of Police and the Chief of the Australian Army talking about men’s sense of entitlement. Men with gender goggles may be easier on their ears.

Kathleen Brasher and Sarah Russell*

Published in The Age

(*Sarah was not named as an author because she did not want to embarrass her family)

 

*

The problem of parental plunder

Australians are living longer and living richer than at any time. While some older people are enjoying their wealth – travelling the world, their luggage broadcasting that they are ”spending their children’s inheritance” – others live in aged care facilities, with their children keeping their eyes peeled on the ”Bank of Mum and Dad”.

As economic conditions worsen, this second group is at greater risk than ever of being financially abused. And research has found that adult children, particularly sons, are the most common perpetrators.

State Trustees Victoria has recorded a spike in the numbers of
older Victorians who are financially abused as well as the
amount of money involved. A research paper it commissioned,
For Love or Money: Intergenerational management of older
Victorians’ assets, found that women over the age of 80 are
most at risk of financial elder abuse, often by someone in a position of trust – their children.

Children with ”early inheritance syndrome” feel a sense of entitlement to their parents’ assets. They are not prepared to wait until their parents die. These impatient children seek ways for their parents to ”gift” them money, or interfere in the management of their parents’ assets to protect what they see as their entitlement.

Financial elder abuse involves taking or misusing an older person’s money, property or assets. It also includes persuading an older person to change their will through deception or undue influence.

Financial elder abuse may begin with the best intentions – with an elderly parent asking a child to act as their power of attorney and thereby manage their finances. This can quickly progress to a sense of entitlement, particularly when adult children have mortgages or debts. They often justify their actions by saying: ”Mum doesn’t need money now, and it’s going to be mine anyway.”

Studies confirm that financial abuse is the most common, and fastest-growing, type of abuse of older people. The most vulnerable include those with diminished capacity due to dementia and depression, and older people who rely on others to manage their finances. However, there is little reliable data on its extent. It is often a silent crime – unreported, unacknowledged.

Earlier this year the banking industry tried to raise awareness of financial elder abuse by announcing initiatives to help prevent this silent crime. But like all silent crimes perpetrated mostly on women – domestic violence, sexual assault, bullying – financial abuse will be difficult to police.

Children with early inheritance syndrome often make ageist and sexist assumptions that devalue the rights of their elderly parents. A common one is that older people, particularly women who have not been the family’s breadwinner, find discussions about financial issues complex and stressful. Not only is this patronising but also it disempowers older women. Another is that having a large amount of money does not improve an older person’s quality of life. Most of us take comfort in the security of having savings. Why would older people be any different? The generation that experienced the Depression may take even more comfort from having a safety net than their children.

The third assumption is that a parent is no worse off after gifting money to their children. This is absurd. The less money they have, the less able they are to make decisions about how their money is spent.

Reducing an older person’s income also reduces fees at an aged care facility – helpful for beneficiaries, but older people may appreciate the care they receive from staff at the facility. They may feel an aged care facility that provides daily care deserves their money more than children who visit infrequently with flowers and chocolates.

The final assumption is that an older person’s current will is their final one. Most people change their wills throughout their lives as circumstances change. Why would older people be different? After spending several years in an aged care facility, parents may change their mind about who should receive their money. They may once have wanted their assets shared equally among their children. But later in life, when their children are financially secure, some older people may prefer to give money to Doctors without Borders, The Lost Dogs Home, or even a kind nurse at the aged care facility. This is surely their decision, not their children’s.

As the vulnerability of older people increases, their dependence on family members also increases. Often they do not want to say ”No” to their children’s requests for money or asset transfers for fear of upsetting these relationships. Sadly, at a time when they most need their children’s love and support, the love of money can trump a person’s love for mum or dad.

Philomena Horsley and Sarah Russell*

*Sarah was not named as an author because she did not want to embarrass her family