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Need for elder abuse protection never greater

If you chart the rise of elder abuse in the state of New Jersey, you will see a steady rise in the line over the course of years. Many of the cases that have led to criminal charges involve individuals who allegedly tried to steal the money that a senior depended on for survival. It's one more bit of evidence supporting lawyer-directed estate planning as a means to asset protection.

Here are some of the specific numbers. They come from the state office of Adult Protective Services, a division of the Department of Health and Senior Services.

In 2008, the number of elder abuse cases stood at 5,986. 2009 saw an uptick in such cases to 6,071. In 2010, nearly 6,400 cases of elder abuse were reported. It's uncertain what the trend may be for 2011, but officials indicate that it is continuing upward.

Authorities say that about 20 percent of the cases taken to trial involved financial exploitation of an elderly victim. According to a 2009 study by the MetLife Mature Market Institute, elder thefts, nationwide, cost the country at least $2.6 billion a year.

The typical victim profile in these cases, according to officials: usually 70 to 89 years old, mentally or physically weak and having a high net worth.

The bad economy gets part of the blame from some experts for the increased activity. They point to the rise in younger family members who have lost their jobs and home. Under one scenario, they move back in with elderly parents and begin to take advantage. In other cases, seniors who are lonely, welcome relative strangers into their lives seeking help and companionship, only to be robbed.

Others familiar with the issue say the hike in abuse cases may just be a reflection of increased reporting. And then there are those who say it could be a sign that cases that should be going to civil court are getting improperly channeled into criminal court.

Regardless of the reasons, it indicates that proper, proactive, monitored estate plans may serve as protection.

Source: The Record, "Fraud against elderly rising," Kibret Markos, Oct. 28, 2011

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