Elder abuse, like family violence, is sadly a common occurrence in New Zealand. It is estimated that 70,000 elderly people in our country will experience some form of elder abuse this year. Around 75% of these cases will go unreported.
What is elder abuse?
New Zealand Police defines elder abuse as ‘a single or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person.’
What does elder abuse look like?
According to Age Concern New Zealand:
- 79% of cases involve psychological abuse – inflicting mental pain, anguish or distress through verbal or non-verbal acts such as humiliation and ridicule
- 54% of cases involve financial abuse – includes the illegal or improper use of funds (or other assets) and/or exploitation (for example, pressuring someone to change their Will)
- 19% of cases involve physical abuse – causing pain or injury by hitting, rough handling, inappropriate restraint or the unnecessary use of medications that sedate or cause harm
- 17% of cases involve neglect – not attending to physical, emotional or social needs, including inadequate food, clothing and hygiene
Most reported cases involve more than one form of abuse and more than 75% of abusers are family members.
Through our interaction with clients, we frequently see the effects of elder abuse. Often, parents in rest homes have run out of money and become dependent on the government after their financial affairs were ruined by children and relatives taking money for their own use. Not only does this place the elderly person in a precarious, stressful situation, but it destroys estates and inheritances too, meaning that the wishes laid out in their Will cannot be carried out.
What legal remedies are available to protect against elder abuse?
As a result of the increasing number of people affected by elder abuse in New Zealand, the Protection of Personal and Property Rights Act 1988 (the PPPR Act) was amended in 2008 and the forms of Enduring Powers of Attorney (EPOA) for Property and Personal Care and Welfare were updated.
As a result of these reforms, greater controls have been placed on the Attorney (the person appointed in an EPOA to make decisions on your behalf). For example, the Attorney may be obliged to consult with or provide information to friends or family when exercising his or her powers. You can also choose to appoint a successor Attorney to act in the event of your first Attorney’s death or incapacity.
In instances where the Attorney is exploiting their powers, an EPOA can be revoked or suspended. If the elderly person is not mentally competent and unable to revoke the EPOA themselves, a third party can apply to the Family Court for revocation or for a review of certain decisions made by the Attorney. The Family Court can also be engaged to provide an Attorney with directions on how they should act in the event that they are conflicted and cannot make a decision.
It’s important to ensure that you have EPOAs in place and that you consider your choice of Attorney carefully, even when appointing a close family member, to minimise the risk of elder abuse.
In addition to the protections offered under the PPPR Act and EPOAs, victims of elder abuse can apply to the Family Court for a protection order under the Domestic Violence Act 1995. This can be done, with the assistance of a lawyer, by the elderly person or by someone else on their behalf if they are incapable or too frightened to make an application.
If you’d like to seek help for yourself or if you suspect that someone you know is experiencing elder abuse, please get in touch with Neil or contact reception. Neil is the Chairman of Age Concern North Shore, so he can arrange access to Age Concern’s free elder abuse response service and provide legal advice in relation to elder law.
Neil Murray – Chairman of Age Concern North Shore Charitable Trust
P/ 09 489 9102
Neil’s career began with Armstrong Murray in 1977. He generally practices in the areas of Property and Trust Law.
He has particular expertise in Asset Protection, Wills and Estates, and the law relating to charities. His clients value his depth of experience.
Neil is an Honorary Solicitor of the North Shore Housing Trust, which provides community housing for people with disabilities and mobility issues. He is also the Chairman of Age Concern North Shore Charitable Trust. Age Concern supports older Kiwis to lead a healthy lifestyle and protects them from harm.
This article is brief and general in nature. You should not treat this article as legal advice and should seek professional advice before taking any action in relation to the matters dealt with in this article. Armstrong Murray accepts no liability for losses suffered by any person or organisation who may rely directly or indirectly on this article.