There's no excuse for elder abuse

13 Dec 2023

Approximately 1 in 6 older Australians experience elder abuse in a given year, according to the National Elder Abuse Prevalence Study. Since 2020, we have acted for more than 80 elderly clients who were victims of financial abuse. 

During this time, we have heard some incredulous things from our client's adult children, like "But I wouldn't have looked after Mum without payment!", "When I agreed to the rest of their lives, I didn't know they would live so long" and "But it's my inheritance!" (spoken by a daughter about her mother who is very much alive). 

There is simply no excuse for elder abuse, and here are some anonymised examples from 2023.

Sonia is an elderly woman who receives a disability pension and is recovering from cancer.  Around 10 years ago, Sonia contributed $185,000 to purchase a house for herself and her 2 children, Sam and Betty, to live in.  Betty used the money to purchase the house in her own name, and took out a mortgage over the property.  Over the years, Sonia paid Betty a monthly instalment which covered most of the mortgage repayments.  In 2022, Betty issued a notice of termination of a tenancy agreement to Sonia even though there was no tenancy arrangement and obtained a Court order for vacant possession in early 2023. 

We received the referral the same day the bailiff was scheduled to seize the property, and urgently applied for and obtained an injunction to prevent the seizure (with only 5 minutes to spare).  We appealed the Court order to evict Sonia and prevented Sonia from being made homeless.  Through mediation, we then assisted Sonia in reaching a settlement with Betty.  The settlement permits Sonia to live in the house for an additional 3 years and Sonia will receive 75% of the proceeds of sale when the house is eventually sold.

Henry acquired a work-related injury in the 1990s that left him unable to work for the remainder of his life. He received approximately $200,000 in workers compensation.  At the time, Henry did not have a bank account so asked his son, Philip, to temporarily hold the money.  They discussed using some of the money to purchase a block of land or a transportable home for Henry's use, but this did not eventuate.  Instead, Philip used part of the money to purchase a house for himself.  When Henry finally opened a bank account and asked for his money, Philip refused, and argued that Henry had gifted him the money.  After unsuccessful attempts at recovering the money, failed negotiations and mediations, we assisted Henry to go to Court and successfully obtained a Court order for Philip to repay Henry the amount owed.  We continue to assist Henry to enforce the Court order.

Adam, an elderly pensioner, moved interstate to be closer to his son, Mark, and grandchild.  Mark purchased a suitable property using Adam's life savings.  After a breakdown of the relationship, Adam wanted to move away.  He discovered that Mark had registered the property solely in his own name and Adam had no legal interest in the property.  Mark refused to sell the house or repay Adam.  We successfully assisted Adam to negotiate with Mark, and Adam was ultimately repaid the entire amount he had transferred to Mark to purchase the house.

Mona, who is in her 80s, transferred her property to her son, Jeremy, with the promise that Mona and Jeremy's sister, Britney, would live in the property for the remainder of their lives.  When Jeremy's daughter also moved into the property, Jeremy moved Mona and Britney into one bedroom in cramped conditions. Jeremy's daughter argued with Mona, and Jeremy attempted to evict both Mona and Britney.  We commenced proceedings in Court and ultimately resolved the dispute for over half a million dollars allowing Mona and Britney to move out and find alternative suitable accommodation.

Tom and Mary, an elderly couple, sold their home in 2011.  They paid their daughter, Andrea, $100,000 on the agreement that Tom and Mary would have permanent residency at a property purchased by Andrea.  The relationship between parents and daughter deteriorated over time and in late 2022 (11 years after moving in the property), Tom and Mary received a letter from Andrea's lawyer enclosing a notice to vacate the property.  We assisted Tom and Mary in lodging a caveat over the property claiming the interest of a tenancy for life.  Although the agreement supported our clients' right to remain in the property, the arrangement had become impossible due to deterioration of the relationship.  We negotiated a settlement with Andrea allowing Tom and Mary more time to find new accommodation and a sum to repay the loan and compensate for the loss of the life tenancy.

Clayton Utz communications are intended to provide commentary and general information. They should not be relied upon as legal advice. Formal legal advice should be sought in particular transactions or on matters of interest arising from this communication. Persons listed may not be admitted in all States and Territories.