Substitute decision making and older people


Research conducted at the Australian Institute of Criminology indicates that older people are more likely to be victims of financial abuse (for example, fraud, deception, and commercial exploitation) than predatory crime (for example, robbery, assault, and homicide). As people become less able to manage their affairs, they may appoint a Power of Attorney or an Enduring Power of Attorney to assist them in future planning or decision making. A recent FBI paper suggested that Power of Attorney was the most abused legal document in America. Similarly, advocacy organisations have reported cases of abuse of the Power of Attorney in Australia.

This paper is based on a study of older people’s knowledge of the substitute decision-making process and experiences of abuse. The study revealed that older people’s knowledge of the substitute decision-making process is very limited, but abuse is not widespread. While most respondents reported that the processes involving Enduring Power of Attorneys are satisfactory, they expressed concerns about trust, accountability, and amount of control.

It has been estimated that by 2050 one-quarter of Australians will be over 65 years of age. Given that many older people are asset rich, the level of protection for older people needs to be built on a firm base. This paper identifies current issues and lays out an agenda for further work to help shape policies that will protect our older citizens.