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Elder Abuse: What is it and how to prevent it from happening?

What is elder abuse?

The World Health Organization defines elder abuse as “a single, or repeated act, or lack of appropriate action, occurring within any relationship where there is an expectation of trust which causes harm or distress to an older person”.

Elder abuse can present in different forms including physical, psychological, sexual, neglect and financial abuse. It is carried out by someone the elderly person trusts, for example, a family member, a friend or a carer.

How can I safeguard myself against elder abuse?

There are a number of steps you can take to safeguard yourself against elder abuse whilst you are still mentally fit and capable.

In Victoria, persons over the age of 18 who have decision making capacity can put Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advance Care Planning in place.  There are different types of Enduring Powers of Attorney and Advance Care Planning documents. These include:

  • Enduring Powers of Attorney;
  • Appointment of Supportive Attorney;
  • Enduring Power of Attorney (Medical Treatment);
  • Refusal of Treatment Certificate; and
  • Advance Care Directives.

You should obtain legal advice in relation to these documents and give careful thought to your preferred attorneys before signing on the dotted line.

By putting these arrangements in place you retain some control over what decisions are made about your medical treatment, personal, lifestyle and financial decisions, and by who, in the event you cannot make those decisions for yourself.

How can I protect an elderly person who is suffering elder abuse?

If an elderly person is at immediate risk of harm, you should contact emergency services.

Navigating the issue of elder abuse, particularly non-physical abuse, is not easy.  Each circumstance will require consideration of the facts and the wishes of the elderly person to develop an appropriate action plan.

As a preliminary step, you can seek advice from a lawyer experienced in the issue of elder abuse in Victoria.

I am concerned about certain actions taken by an elderly person’s appointed Attorney.  What can I do?

Unfortunately, there may be circumstances where a person appoints a trusted family member, friend or adviser to be their Attorney and that Attorney does not act in the best interests of the person who appointed them.  Sometimes, an Attorney will abuse their power and make decisions for their own benefit.

When an Attorney is not acting in the best interests of the person who has appointed them, they should be removed.  This can be achieved through an application to the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT). VCAT has the power to appoint a Guardian (to make personal/ lifestyle decisions) and Administrator (to make financial decisions) for an adult who is unable to make their own decisions due to a disability.

In an application you can propose an Administrator and/or Guardian (i.e. another trusted family member, friend or adviser) who is capable, willing and able take on the power and obligation to manage the elderly person’s affairs (which could include pursing the former Attorney for any loss incurred as a result of the Attorney’s misconduct).  You may also consider that an independent Administrator and/or Guardian is more appropriate in the circumstances.  The final decision as to who is appointed as Administrator and/or Guardian will ultimately rest with VCAT.

Why appoint an independent Administrator?

In some cases, there is no suitable family member, friend or adviser to assume the role of Administrator and it is appropriate for an independent Administrator to be appointed.

The appointment of an independent Administrator is often preferable and appropriate in circumstances where there is disharmony within a family and there is a pressing need for decisions to be made about financial and property matters.

Using an Independent Administrator may relieve relational pressures between family members during a stressful time, and provides peace of mind with the knowledge that an experienced professional has the matter in hand.  Further, there is regular oversight of all activities of a VCAT appointed Administrator, and independent professionals have experience with transparent accounting and decision-making processes.

At Burke & Associates Lawyers, Anthony Burke, Consultant to the firm and Principal, Rosy Roberts are currently appointed by VCAT as Administrators to assist with the financial and/or personal affairs of persons suffering a disability or incapacity, with Anthony having a long history of such appointments.

Our Administrators are supported by a dedicated team of lawyers and support staff to help them effectively and efficiently carry out this important role.

Burke & Associates VCAT Administration Team

At Burke & Associates Lawyers, we have extensive knowledge and experience in dealing with matters relating to both elder abuse and VCAT Appointed Administration.

If you wish to enquire or discuss further, please contact Rosy Roberts, Principal, Rohani Bixler, Special Counsel on, respectively, or by contacting our office on +61 3 9822 8588.


Rosy Roberts


Rosy Roberts

Rosy has extensive experience in Litigation & Alternative Dispute Resolution having represented clients in all Victorian State Courts and the High Court of Australia. She is also a VCAT appointed Administrator.

Rohani Bixler

Special Counsel

Rohani Bixler

Special Counsel
LL.B (Hons) BA (PSYCH)
Rohani holds a Bachelor of Arts (Psychology) and a Bachelor of Laws (Honours) from Monash University, and has practiced exclusively in the areas of estate planning, deceased estate administration and estate litigation and disputes since...

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