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Elder abuse is a pressing concern in Western Australia, as it is in many parts of the world. It is estimated that around 1 in 20 older people in Western Australia will experience some form of abuse.

With an aging population, it is crucial to understand the legal avenues available to safeguard oneself against elder abuse before losing capacity. This article aims to explore the topic of elder abuse in Western Australia and provide individuals with practical legal measures they can take to protect themselves from such abuse.

“Wise Up, Rise Up against elder abuse”

On the June 15 each year is the United Nations internationally recognised World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) where everyone is encouraged to make a united stand against all forms of abuse against older people in our communities.

The Western Australia theme for 2023 WEAAD is “Wise Up, Rise Up against elder abuse”:

  • Wise Up – find out more about elder abuse, recognise the signs and where to access support.
  • Rise Up – act individually and in your community to stop Elder Abuse from happening and to support older Western Australians.

Understanding Elder Abuse

Elder abuse encompasses various forms of mistreatment or harm inflicted upon older individuals, typically by someone in a position of trust or authority. It can manifest as emotional or financial abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Recognising the signs of elder abuse is essential to address the issue promptly and effectively.

It is also important that you start your estate planning sooner rather than later – do not wait until the question of your capacity becomes an issue. Prevention is always better than cure.

What can I do NOW to better protect myself?

  • Seek appropriate professional advice and assistance from lawyers, accountants, and financial advisors.
  • Seeking independent legal advice is crucial when setting up legal safeguards. A qualified lawyer specializing in elder law can provide guidance tailored to individual circumstances, ensuring that legal documents are correctly drafted, comprehensive, and legally enforceable. They can also help individuals understand their rights and make informed decisions.
  • Prepare an Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA) and an Enduring Power of Guardianship (EPG).
  • Review and update your Will at least every 3 – 5 years or following a big life event or change in circumstances such as a separation, death of your spouse, death of a child, marriage, entering a relationship with someone who has children from a previous relationship, change in your health status.
  • Plan ahead.
  • Have a family discussion about the future with all relevant family members.
  • Prepare a formal written agreement if selling your property and moving into a granny flat on your child or family member’s property.

The POWER of planning ahead

Enduring Power of Attorney

An EPA is a legal document that allows an individual (the principal) to appoint a trusted person (the attorney) to make financial and property decisions on their behalf if they become unable to do so due to incapacity. By carefully selecting reliable attorneys, individuals can protect their interests and ensure their affairs are managed in their best interests.

When choosing an enduring guardian, it is recommended you consider the below points:

  • Appoint two people jointly so they keep each other accountable;
  • If there is a blended family then consider appointing a child from each side of the family;
  • Think about your children (or the attorneys you are appointing) strengths and weaknesses; and
  • Do not make decisions based on emotion or attachment alone.

Enduring Power of Guardianship

EPG enables individuals to appoint a trusted person (the guardian) to make lifestyle, health, and welfare decisions on their behalf. By designating a responsible guardian, individuals can ensure their preferences regarding medical treatment, living arrangements, and other personal matters are respected even if they lose decision-making capacity.

When choosing an enduring guardian, it is recommended you consider the below points:

  • Appoint two people so they keep each other accountable;
  • Think about your children’s (or the people you are appointing) strengths and weaknesses;
  • Do not make decisions based on emotion or attachment alone;
  • Do you trust these people now and if not, then why would you trust them when you have lost capacity; and
  • If something happens to one of your guardians, appoint another person to act as guardian with the surviving guardian.

Advance Health Directive (AHD):

An AHD allows individuals to outline their preferences for medical treatment and end-of-life care. By expressing their wishes regarding life-sustaining measures, organ donation, and other medical decisions, individuals can protect themselves against unwanted medical interventions and ensure their choices are respected when they are unable to communicate them directly.

If you have an AHD then your appointed guardian(s) are bound by the AHD and cannot make decisions that conflict with those specified in your AHD.

How can Lynn & Brown lawyers help me?

Elder abuse is a significant concern in Western Australia, and proactive measures are essential to protect oneself from such abuse before losing capacity. By utilising legal safeguards such as enduring powers of attorney, enduring powers of guardianship, advance health directives, and seeking independent legal advice, individuals can ensure their wishes are respected, their assets are protected, and they are shielded from exploitation.

It is crucial to familiarise oneself with the relevant laws and take appropriate steps to safeguard against elder abuse, promoting dignity, autonomy, and well-being in later life.

At Lynn and Brown Lawyers, we have a dedicated team of Wills and Estate Planning lawyers who will help you navigate through the estate planning process and give you legal advice and guidance on how to best prepare yourself for the future

About the Author: Hannah is a graduate of both the University of Western Australia and Notre Dame University, having completed a Bachelor of Arts (major in ‘Law and Society’’ and minors in History and Psychology) in 2016 and a Bachelor of Laws in 2018.

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