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Ask the Experts

Fighting Elder Abuse

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Q. My sister persuaded my mother to sign her house over to her, promising Mom that she’d have a place to live for the rest of her life. Then my sister rented the house, after she took out a reverse mortgage, used most of the proceeds and moved out of state. Mom had no place to go and only Social Security to live on, so I took her in.

I think my sister cheated Mom out of her home. Would this be considered elder abuse? Can anything be done legally?

A. Without knowing all the details, it’s not possible to say whether this particular case constitutes elder abuse. But in general, one form of this abuse is when a relative or a person in a position of trust takes advantage to gain control of money, property or other assets.

According to a 2009 study, elder financial abuse costs victims more than $2.6 billion per year and is most often perpetrated by family members, friends and caregivers. Up to 1 million older people may be targeted yearly. The study was published by the MetLife Mature Market Institute along with the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse and the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech.

To report your family’s situation, call your local adult protective services office or your state department on aging. You can find resources on the issue at the website of the National Center on Elder Abuse, which is funded by the U.S. Administration on Aging (AoA). You can also call the AoA’s Eldercare Locator at 1-800-677-1116.

Carole Fleck is a senior editor at the AARP Bulletin.

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