So far in 2019, the state health department has heard from 1,599 callers worried that an elderly or disabled person they know might be subjected to financial exploitation.
Such exploitation often comes from someone misusing a power of attorney “to control a senior’s entire life,” even when the legal authority granted by the document is more limited, said Katy Lovell, Legal Services Developers program director.
The Department of Public Health and Human Services talked about those issues and more during its last legal clinic of the year in Billings on Thursday. During the workshop it provided basic estate planning services in an effort to curb exploitation of seniors. The clinic helped people write wills and living wills, create a homestead declaration, and establish power of attorney, among other things.
A crew of volunteers, including attorneys, notaries and social services employees, ushered participants Thursday through the process at the Adult Resource Alliance of Yellowstone County, in the Heights.
The event was open to anyone 60 years or older and to all enrolled tribal members.
The department organizes the legal clinic in various Montana cities and towns throughout the year.
This year, the state hosted clinics in Hamilton, Glasgow, Hardin, Wilsall, and Libby. Those smaller Montana towns saw more than 100 wills and 230 power of attorney documents written in 2019.
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The Billings clinic occurred Wednesday and Thursday and served 77 participants. On Tuesday, local professionals were invited to attend training on how to identify possible exploitation.
Lovell said the department invited not only the obvious professionals like lawyers and banking staff, but also hair stylists, plumbers and electricians — all who tend to interact with seniors. They might overhear a son or daughter demand money, for instance.
Lovell said anyone with concerns about exploitation — or abuse and neglect — should contact the Adult Protective Services division of the health department.
“A lot of times those go hand-in-hand,” Lovell said. “Exploitation goes alongside with abuse or neglect.”
Adult Protective Services has received more than 11,000 calls for service so far in 2019, the department said in its press release. Of those, 1,599 were for financial exploitation of the elderly or disabled, while 2,453 were for abuse, and 2,486 were for neglect.
The division also takes on the role of guardianship for people without family support or protection.