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Investigating Financial Abuse

Financial abuse can occur to anyone regardless of their age, religion, culture, race or socio-economic status. A financial abuser can be anyone, including someone usually considered trustworthy, such as a parent, adult child, grandchild, sibling, caregiver, friend or neighbour.

Financial abuse can take many forms. Examples include, but are not limited to, the following:

  • using a vulnerable person's debit or credit card to make purchases for someone other than the vulnerable person;
  • occupying a vulnerable person's home without paying rent;
  • giving away the vulnerable person's assets;
  • using the vulnerable person's funds to support someone who is not the vulnerable person's spouse or dependent child;
  • unduly pressuring the vulnerable person to change or sign legal documents that they don't understand to hand over money, sell property or take out a loan;
  • refusing to return borrowed property or money;
  • unnecessarily transferring bank accounts or title to land into joint names.

An adult who is incompetent or lacks capacity may be exploited by others or may endanger his or her own financial welfare. The Public Guardian and Trustee (PGT) works to protect vulnerable adults' property and can investigate allegations of financial abuse.

The PGT has the authority, under the The Public Guardian and Trustee Act, to investigate where it has reasonable grounds to believe that a person is vulnerable and is:

  • being subjected to financial abuse by another person; or
  • likely to suffer a serious financial loss or damage because the vulnerable person is unable to make reasonable financial decisions.

A vulnerable person is anyone 16 years of age or older who has an illness, impairment, disability or aging process limitation that places the individual at risk of financial abuse.

It should be noted that the PGT does not act like a police service or make decisions like a judge. However, although the PGT's investigatory powers are limited, the PGT does have the power to temporarily freeze the vulnerable person's bank accounts and demand documents from third parties.

If an attorney under a power of attorney or property guardian is suspected of financial abuse, the PGT can demand an accounting from that individual. An accounting is a detailed written outline, sworn under oath, of all actions taken and decisions made on behalf of the vulnerable adult. If you are a family member of a vulnerable person who lacks capacity, you have the legal right to demand an accounting from the attorney under a power of attorney or the property guardian, as the case may be. You should do so, in writing, before contacting the PGT. If your demand, and that of the PGT, are ignored or the accounting provided is unsatisfactory, you can ask a court to order compliance or further details. You will need to contact your own lawyer about the court application process.

If you are concerned about the actions of an attorney under a power of attorney for a vulnerable person who lacks capacity, you may want to think about applying to the court to become that vulnerable person's property guardian. Generally, the court appointment of a property guardian effectively cancels a power of attorney. Once a person becomes incapable, she or he cannot cancel a power of attorney or create a new one. Similarly, if you are concerned about the actions of a property guardian, you may want to think about applying to the court to have the property guardian's appointment reviewed or the property guardian replaced. Further information about this is available on the Applying for Adult Guardianship page.

Under certain circumstances, and as a last resort, the PGT can become the decision-maker for a vulnerable adult. For more information, see the The Public Guardian and Trustee as Guardian for a Dependent Adult page.

Before contacting the PGT with your concerns, talk to other family members, friends, neighbours, financial institutions, health care professionals or caregivers to find out what they think of the vulnerable person's situation. They may have information to share or be able to suggest ways to protect the vulnerable person.

You may also want to report your concerns to your local police service or the RCMP; financial abuse can be a criminal act. If successfully prosecuted, a financial abuser may be sentenced to time in jail or be ordered to pay restitution to the vulnerable person.

If you are the property guardian or attorney under a power of attorney for a financially abused person, you may want to consult with your own lawyer about the costs and benefits of pursuing the financial abuser in civil court for repayment. If you or the financially abused person cannot afford a lawyer, you may be able to receive some free legal advice from Pro Bono Law Saskatchewan.

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