Elder abuse is an unfortunate reality facing many families in the U.S. The potential is ripe for misusing conservatorship laws that are designed to protect people who are facing physical disabilities by appointing a person to manage their financial affairs.

A person who has become physically incapacitated, but retains mental competency – referred to as a conservatee (or ward) – can petition for a conservator, who will take over financial decision-making. Conservatorships can be temporary or permanent.

Although conservatees have numerous protected rights, including access to income or allowances and savings, the conservator retains a lot of power over the conservatee’s assets, which is why there’s a risk of abusive behaviors like embezzlement and fraud, regardless of whether the person was selected by the conservatee or by the court.

Sadly, these abuses of power can be difficult to spot by the untrained eye.

Red flags and warning signs

According to the Center for Elders and the Courts, very little data reporting exists for conservatorships, which is why a pilot program is in the works to increase conservator accountability and track cases where exploitation might be happening, including developing a system that detects “red flags” indicating potential abuse.

Learning to spot exploitation is a critical step in keeping tabs on a conservator. If you or your loved one has a legally-appointed conservator, here are some of the things you should look out for:

  • Evidence of excessive errors, discrepancies or missing entries on the account
  • Evidence of mental, physical, emotional or verbal abuse toward the conservatee
  • Large purchases of property and other high-value assets by the conservator
  • Suspected price gouging for conservator fees
  • Neglecting or refusing the requests or needs of the conservatee

In the event of an unsatisfactory or abusive conservatorship, the conservatee can revoke the arrangement at will, or a judge can order a new conservator.

Don’t be a spectator in your own life

Knowing your rights is the first step in combatting abuse of power when you’ve entrusted someone with your livelihood. A qualified attorney can help you determine whether your own suspicions warrant further action.