In a recent article, we highlighted financial elder abuse.
Elder abuse is not only financial abuse but can include physical and emotional abuse. Unfortunately, there have been many cases where the person committing the abuse has been appointed as the person’s attorney. Clients are more frequently asking us what they can do when they suspect this is happening.
In Queensland, if you suspect someone is being taken advantage of and you would like an attorney or guardian’s actions investigated you can contact the Office of Public Guardian.
The Office of Public Guardian has the power to:
- Require people to produce records and accounts;
- Access relevant information e.g. medical records;
- Issue a summons ordering an uncooperative person to provide information;
- Apply for an entry and removal warrant if a person is at immediate risk of harm; and
- Suspend an attorney’s power.
Unfortunately, due to limited resources and an increase in reported cases of suspected abuse, an investigation can take significant time and an immediate outcome is not available.
In Queensland, there are immediate steps that can be taken where abuse is suspected.
Section 129 of the Guardianship and Administration Act 2000 (Qld) gives QCAT (the Tribunal) the power to grant an interim order if they determine there is an immediate risk of harm to health, welfare or property of the adult concerned.
This allows any person who is concerned for the welfare of an adult to make an application to the Tribunal to have the Power of Attorney suspended. If successful, the Tribunal would then usually appoint the Public Trustee to manage the person’s finances, and the Office of the Adult Guardian to manage the person’s health and personal matters. These interim orders can last three months or until a full trial has been heard in relation to the matter.
An interim order means an adult who was at risk has been immediately protected from the abuser.
A failure to act could not only see the vulnerable person’s wealth be eroded, but also cause issues when it comes to administration of that person’s estate. It is a long, costly and often unsuccessful process to try and investigate the transactions and claim the funds back from the attorney.