Financial Abuse of Older Adults

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Elder Abuse Prevention Series
Last Updated: 
August 2016
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What is financial abuse?

Financial abuse means using a person's money or property without permission or in a fraudulent manner. Financial abuse can take away or limit an older person's resources, choices, and options.

Financial abuse is the most commonly reported type of abuse that people may experience in later life. It accounts for over a half of elder abuse situations reported.

Financial abuse typically involves a family member or another person whom the older adult trusts. Financial abuse can occur when a family member or friend takes over financial decisions and control of the older adult’s money. Financial neglect occurs if a family member, friend or power of attorney controls the money but disregards the older adult’s financial obligations or does not fulfill instructions under the power of attorney.

Financial abuse and neglect negatively impact the trust among family members. Adult children may not consider or realize that their actions are financially abusive or neglectful toward their parent(s).

Common examples of financial abuse include:

  • A family member who repeatedly pressures a parent for money or borrows money, but never repays it.
  • A family member who sells a parent's house or other property and then uses the money for their own benefit.
  • Adult children who use a parent's pension and then make the parent ask them for money.
  • A person who misuses a power of attorney.

Financial abuse may involve any amount of money or any size of property. Some forms of financial abuse involve theft or fraud, and these are considered crimes.

Financial neglect may involve failing to pay rent or mortgage, medical insurance, or bills.

Who can experience financial abuse?

Financial abuse can happen to both men and women. In general, those at higher risk of financial abuse tend to be alone, socially isolated, and either physically or emotionally unwell.

For information about how men and women may experience abuse or neglect differently, see HealthLinkBC File #93c Abuse and Neglect of Older Adults: Understanding Gender Differences.

Why does financial abuse occur?

Financial abuse occurs when a person's sense of need, entitlement, or greed for the money is greater than their ability to remain fair, honest and caring with a parent or other older adult.

In some cultures, there are expectations and assumptions about who will inherit parents’ money or property.

Older parents and their grown children may use banking machines or joint accounts together, but they may not recognize the risk in doing so.

Financial abuse is more likely to occur during an older adult’s health crisis or after a major change in health. Some older adults become vulnerable to financial abuse when their spouse, partner or close friend dies. They are grieving, and they have many decisions to make.

What are the health effects of financial abuse on older adults?

Financial abuse hurts older adults in many ways and it seldom stops by itself. Many financial abuse situations involve lies, threats or intimidation, which are forms of emotional abuse.

These situations can lead to ongoing stress and financial strain for an older adult.

An older adult may feel very hurt by the person and abusive behaviour, but they may not ask for the money or talk about the situation. The situation can become worse over time and sometimes lead to physical abuse.

Financial abuse can take away or limit parents’ or older adults’ finances or money and their ability to take care of themselves. It can negatively impact their health by reducing the resources available for proper housing, good nutrition, medication, and healthy activities.

How can abuse and neglect be prevented?

To help prevent abuse and neglect, consider these tips:

  • Set up your finances so that the bank automatically pays your bills, especially if your health changes or you need to go to the hospital or into a care facility.
  • If you lend money, write down the amount, the person’s name, and the date you loaned it. This can help you remember the amount of money given as a loan or gift.
  • For any major decision involving property, consider using a notary, lawyer, or community advocate

What should I do if I see a crime or harmful situation?

If you see a crime or harmful situation occurring to an older adult, call the police or 9-1-1 right away.

Advise that you want to report a situation of suspected elder abuse, neglect or self-neglect.

For More Information

For information and services, you can contact:

For more information on abuse and older adults, see the following HealthLinkBC Files:

BC Centre For Elder Advocacy and Support Logo

Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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