The Garden City Telegram
7/6/2014
OPINIONS AND COMMENTARY

Law will help protect seniors

As we get older, we all may need some help from others. We might need help getting around town or with household chores. Often, seniors also ask for help with their finances from a trusted friend or loved one.

Unfortunately, those who are placed in that position of trust can sometimes take advantage of that role for their own financial benefit.

During fiscal year 2013, the Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation Unit of the Attorney General's Office received 342 substantiated reports of adult abuse. Of those, nearly 60 percent were cases of financial abuse, most often involving seniors. And, we know there are many more cases that go unreported.

In the past, the penalties for taking financial advantage of a senior did not fit the crime. If cases were able to be prosecuted at all, the punishment was usually very small. That is about to change.

This past spring, Kansas legislators created a new crime of "mistreatment of an elder person." This new law, which took effect July 1, makes it clear that financial abuse of senior citizens is a serious crime.

It also explicitly states that violations of the Power of Attorney Act or Kansas Uniform Trust Code are possible means of committing financial exploitation of a dependent adult or an elder person.

While this new law will help us prosecute those who financially abuse Kansas seniors, there are also some steps seniors can take to avoid becoming victims.

First, placing someone in a position of power over your finances — in either a power of attorney or a trust — is a very important decision and should not be taken lightly. These documents can give another person a wide range of authority over your finances. You should always consult with a competent attorney before entering into these agreements to be sure that the document accomplishes what you intend — and no more.

Second, the person you select to help manage your finances should be someone you fully trust. He or she should also be competent at managing financial matters, so pay attention to how he or she manages his or her own money. You should also select someone who has enough time to handle your financial matters in a timely and responsible manner. The person will have access to your most personal information, so he or she should also be willing to respect your confidentiality in these matters.

Third, remember, if you suspect an attorney-in-fact or trustee might be mismanaging funds, it's OK to ask for help. Having an independent third party, like an accountant, review your finances will help keep everyone accountable.

As Kansans, we know it's important that we watch out for one another. If you suspect a senior citizen is being taken advantage of, please report it to your local authorities or call our Medicaid Fraud and Abuse hotline at (866) 551-6328.

DEREK SCHMIDT,

Topeka

Schmidt is Kansas attorney general.