What is early inheritance syndrome?

Published 14 Aug 2018

Australia is an ageing nation. Boys and girls born in 2012 can expect to live to 91.6 and 94.4 years old, respectively, according to the Productivity Commission. An ageing population is usually a positive sign, reflecting the strength of a country’s health care, social services and economic conditions.

However, some people who are expecting a substantial financial legacy from loved ones can become frustrated at having to wait longer to receive the family fortune. Known as early inheritance syndrome, this sense of entitlement to a relative’s estate may lead to elder abuse.

Recognising elder abuse

One of the most common types of elder abuse among family members is financial exploitation. Adult sons and daughters are often the culprits and older people who suffer from cognitive impairment, such as dementia, are particularly vulnerable.

Abusers may convince their loved one to appoint them as enduring powers of attorney, which gives them the legal authority to make important decisions, including over financial matters. This allows abusers to siphon off money or belongings from their relatives undetected.

In some cases, people may coerce the victim to change their will. They often do this to disinherit other beneficiaries and secure a larger share of the estate for themselves.

Federal government addresses elder abuse

Unfortunately, elder abuse is difficult to tackle because many instances are not reported. Victims are usually reluctant or embarrassed to come forward, or may not even be aware they are being financially abused.

Earlier this year, the federal government launched a National Plan for Elder Abuse, which was a key recommendation from a 2017 Australian Law Reform Commission report on the topic. A draft of the strategy is scheduled for release at the end of the year.

Federal Attorney-General Christian Porter also announced a new peak body to tackle the issue. Elder Abuse Action Australia has received initial funding of $500,000 and will focus on education, data gathering, research and capacity building to prevent the manipulation of older people.

What can I do to stop elder abuse?

There are no mandatory reporting laws for elder abuse in the country, but each state and territory has its own organisations to support victims and provide advice. You should visit the My Aged Care website for more details.

If you believe a loved one has been unduly pressured into changing their estate planning intentions, you can contest the validity of the will. Please contact Gerard Malouf & Partners Will Dispute Lawyers to discuss your case with one of our team today.

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