Financial Abuse Within the Family

Oct 2, 2014 | Financial Abuse

Woman Looking Down

When thinking of elder financial abuse, the culprit is expected to be some mysterious stranger who swoops in to manipulate and exploit you. However, this is rarely the case. Studies show that 90% of elder abusers are actually members of their own families. Victims find it hard to recognize, accept, and report that the culprit is a loved one, which makes financial abuse by family members easier to commit. It is important to understand the possible reasoning behind such a crime as well as acknowledge warning signs so that you, or a loved one, can avoid such abuse.

Why it Happens

Family members often commit financial abuse to fuel their substance abuse, gambling problems, or other addictions. They also may justify their abuse by taking money they stand to inherit which they believe is “almost” or “rightfully” theirs. Similarly, they may attempt to collect their “inheritance” out of fear that senior family member will use up their savings on other things such as supplies and services for medical needs. There may also be the factor of an abuser having a negative relationship with the victim of abuse or another family member set to inherit some of the victim’s assets. In these cases the abuser would want to prevent an outflow of money to other family members; also wanting to take what they feel is entitled to them.

Warning Signs

If you are concerned this may be happening to you or someone you love, it is important to watch for certain warning signs. If a relative possesses personal financial information, note any sudden changes in financial accounts. Also be wary of the distinction between helping a loved one financially and being abused by a loved one financially. It is common to want to aid in the economic well-being of loved ones. However, some may overly encourage that nurturing instinct, turning that subtle manipulation into complete financial abuse. This kind of abuse can be characterized by the abuser using guilt, fear, flattery, or excessive attentiveness to obtain funds from the victim.


It is important to proceed with caution when giving money to loved ones and/or choosing a financial caretaker. It is sometimes difficult to acknowledge that a loved one would commit such a crime; however, it is essential to safeguard your assets from those trying to exploit them. Paula Mixson (certified guardian/clerk of the NCPEA) emphasizes the importance of considering a family member’s history of substance abuse, chemical dependency, and other addictions (especially compulsive gambling) before giving away money or when settling on a financial caretaker.