By Nita Blake-Persen of RNZ
An elderly Auckland woman is facing a desperate fight for her home after her daughter allegedly tricked her into signing away her ownership of the property.
The woman’s case is one of thousands that social workers and Age Concern staff say they are seeing, where older people are taken advantage of by those they love and trust.
They want more people to be on the lookout for elder abuse, and say the law needs strengthening to protect people who are vulnerable targets.
Unfortunately the case of 72-year-old woman Julie*, who said she was tricked into signing over her home to her daughter, was not the worst they had dealt with.
Julie had accepted help in dealing with her finances after separating from her husband. Having never had anything to do with their money, she said it was a huge shock.
“Getting the car registered, petrol, maintenance on the car, fixing the house. I had to take over all those things that I’ve never had anything to do with in my past.
“What do you do? It was another world to me.”
With her daughter’s advice she made decisions about her property – putting it into what she thought was a family trust.
“She took me to her lawyer. I was told: ‘These are documents for the trust mum. You’re in the trust.’
“So I assumed these were documents I had to sign so I could be in the trust. So of course, I read the first [page], it was all about the trust. When I turned over the page my daughter said to me: ‘Don’t worry about that, reading it.’
“She said ‘you can see on the bottom it’s already signed… just sign it.’ So from then on I just flipped the pages at the bottom, and I just signed everything, not knowing that I was signing away my home. That’s how it happened.”
In 2020, Julie got a phone call that devastated her.
“My daughter phoned and said to me she’s selling the house. When I said: ‘No you can’t do that, I don’t want it sold right now,’ she said: ‘I’m selling the house because I own it.’ And that was it.
“It turned out that in signing these documents so that my home could be put into her trust – because it was her idea to put it in the trust – I signed away my house to her.”
Julie was blindsided and has suffered anxiety and depression since. Sometimes she struggles with eating and breathing when the situation overwhelms her.
The house is Julie’s only security for the future. Nothing has happened to it yet while a case against her daughter is before the court, but she is terrified at what she could lose.
“Where did she think I was going to live? What did she think I was going to do? Does she need my house? No. Has she got money? Yes. Why take my home?
“There’s no excuse for it, there’s no reason for it. It’s just pure and utter greed. Just drop me in a rest home somewhere and forget about me. The Government will take care of me – that was her idea.”
Julie feared she had no one to turn to for help – but has since found a social worker at Age Concern, Anne Foley.
Foley said cases like this were unfortunately not uncommon – with about 85 per cent of elder abuse committed by an adult child, often an adult daughter.
Financial abuse was the most common form of elder abuse, she said, with many cases deemed “inheritance impatience”.
“That is about ‘well I’m going to get the money anyways so why not get it now? My parents have lived their life, I’m the one with the mortgage, I’m the one with the debt’.
“Or it could be that you’re an adult child who has a drug and alcohol addiction or gambling addiction, so you need the money.”
Julie now has no contact with her daughter. She has tried with texts and phone calls which go unanswered.
While the whole ordeal had been incredibly hard, she said she was speaking up to spare others similar suffering, urging older people not to sign anything until it had been looked at by several people.
She has this message for anyone who fears they may also be a target: “Be aware of who you are and what you can do – because you’re not as weak as you think you are, you’re really not.”
'It's based on greed' – Age Concern CEO
“This is one of those hidden things in society, we just prefer not to see it,” Age Concern chief executive Kevin Lamb told RNZ Checkpoint.
“But the reality is, it’s very, very common. There’s been research done which shows that almost 10 per cent of all people over the age of 65 will experience some form of abuse or neglect at some point in their lives. It’s very common.
“There’s almost 2500 cases referred to us of which, when we investigate, three quarters are substantiated that they are cases of elder abuse.
“It can take a whole range of forms. We see lots of people who are experiencing psychological abuse.
“It could be anything from as simple as just abandoning someone in the corner of a house and ignoring them, all the way through to aggressive behaviour, insults being thrown,” he said.
Lamb said almost half the cases they saw were financially motivated, from cases like Julie’s to pension payments being regularly taken by a family member.
“In many cases this is malicious. It’s based on greed, and it’s done knowingly, that someone is taking advantage of an elder person.”
*Real name withheld for privacy reasons.
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