Assets of older people need to be protected

To help guard against financial abuse and promote good practice, a team of UQ researchers has developed a program of research focusing on the management of the financial resources of older people.

Lead researchers, Associate Professor Cheryl Tilse and Professor Jill Wilson from UQ’s School of Social Work and Human Services, said the research program began with an interest in the misuse of Enduring Powers of Attorneys (EPAs).

“Many older people suffer financial abuse from family members who act as attorneys under an EPA,” they said.

“Our research sought to address this abuse by finding the best ways to support older people with the management of their financial affairs, and to ensure carers and attorneys are supported to act appropriately if they manage assets on behalf of an older person.”

The research program comprises 12 interlinked research projects funded by the Australian Research Council, National Health and Medical Research Council, Queensland Government, local and international philanthropic trusts and a range of industry partners.

The ultimate aim of the program is to support the development of informed and protective financial management practices for older people and those who assist them.

The research team worked with a number of community and government organisations to explore asset management practices and the use of EPAs from the perspectives of older people, family members, practitioners and aged-care providers.

Associate Professor Tilse said the results uncovered some interesting findings.

“Our research has shown that current frameworks for understanding and responding to financial elder abuse are limited, and that current forms and processes surrounding EPAs do not sufficiently alert attorneys to their obligations,” she said.

“We also found that substitute decision-making legislation is misused and often misunderstood by family members and others acting under EPAs as attorneys, and by some professionals and staff in residential care.”

The research suggests that ageist attitudes and a sense of entitlement to older people’s assets provide a basis for financial elder abuse.

Not surprisingly, adult children are the most common perpetrators of this type of abuse.

From these findings, the team hopes to contribute to the prevention of financial elder abuse through enhancing knowledge and understanding of substitute and assisted decision-making in the general community and among service providers and practitioners.

The research team plans to extend its program to look at intergenerational asset transfers through projects on wills and inheritance.

The multidisciplinary team consists of researchers from social work, social policy, law, economics, neuropsychology, medicine and community development.

Team members across the various projects have comprised:

• Associate Professor Cheryl Tilse, Professor Jill Wilson, Dr Deborah Setterlund and Professor Linda Rosenman from the School of Social Work and Human Services
• Associate Professor Ben White and Professor Lindy Willmott from QUT’s Faculty of Law
• Dr David Morrison from UQ’s TC Beirne School of Law
• Dr Steven Harrison from UQ’s School of Economics
• Professor Nancy Pachana from UQ’s School of Psychology
• Professor Gerard Byrne from UQ’s School of Medicine

Media: Associate Professor Cheryl Tilse (School of Social Work and Human Services), email [email protected], phone 336 53341 or Helen Burdon (Marketing and Communications, Faculty of Social and Behavioural Sciences), email [email protected], phone 3346 9279.

September 17 to 21 is Research Week 2012 at UQ, one of Australia’s premier learning and research institutions. For more information visit: