The most common form of elder abuse in Australia is financial and the perpetrators are likely to be related to the victim.
As a result, the Australian Law Reform Commission (ALRC) has proposed a national register of enduring powers of attorney should be established to prevent greedy adult children from using the document as a “license to steal” from their elderly parents.
The proposals, released in a Discussion Paper, have come about from an inquiry into elder abuse which contains a wide range of proposals aimed at protecting the vulnerable.
There have long been calls for a national register of enduring powers of attorney as there is currently no way of checking the validity of the document when an elderly person’s relative, friend, or carer attempts to withdraw or transfer money on their behalf. This confusion can lead to fraud and exploitation.
“People describe powers of attorney as a licence to steal,” ALRC president Professor Rosalind Croucher says.
“And there might be multiple powers of attorney. There’s uncertainty as to which one is the right one, which one is the most recent, and which is the valid one.”
Creating an online database could solve these problems, although critics point out that it will not necessarily be enough to stop bad behaviour by individuals who act as decision-makers on behalf of an elderly person.
The ALRC is also proposing to make it a requirement that at least two people — one of whom is a lawyer, doctor or police officer — are there to observe the enduring power of attorney document being signed by the elderly person to ensure they understand what is happening.
The ALRC is proposing:
• A national register of powers of attorney
• That enduring powers of attorney must be witnessed by two people
• That the Code of Banking Practice requires banks to try to prevent financial elder abuse
• A new national employment screening process for Australian Government aged care workers
• A reportable incidents scheme in aged care that requires staff to report to the Aged Care Complaints Commissioner
• That the Law Council of Australia review the guidelines for the preparation and execution of wills
Professor Croucher says: “In developing the proposals in this Discussion Paper we have worked to balance the autonomy of older people with providing appropriate protections, respecting the choices that older persons make, but also safeguarding them from abuse. Consultation is at the heart of our processes, and we now call on the community to provide feedback, to build on the evidence base so far established and test these proposals ahead of the Final Report.”
The ALRC invites submissions in response to this Discussion Paper, which is available free of charge on the ALRC website. Submissions are due to the ALRC by 27 February 2016.
The ALRC final report will be presented to the Attorney-General in May 2017. The report will be beneficial in protecting those living with dementia, or who are in aged care.
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