As some populations in South East Asia begin to age, a worrying trend has begun to be noted whereby dementia patients are being are victims of fraud by their relatives and friends. With citizens growing richer but still relying on their relatives for care, legal experts have urged people at risk to take steps to protect their wealth whilst they are still able to.
Fraud or mistreatment of the elderly has long been a taboo subject in Asia, a region that places an emphasis on values such as filial piety, family harmony and respect for the elderly.
Countries such as Singapore have recognized the threat of such a problem. The Government enacted the Mental Capacity Act in March 2010 to combat the threat of fraud. The Act provides for an individual to have a nominee to manage their assets when they are no longer of sound mind. The process is similar to a Power of Attorney and involves the medical community Singapore’s public guardian office.
Hong Kong has a Guardianship Board tribunal to resolve disputes over the handling of the assets belonging to an elderly person suffering dementia. The tribunal hears around 300 fraud cases involving senior citizens each year.
Legal and medical experts have suggested that the best method to protect potential victims against dementia fraud is to have an early diagnosis of the disease. Those who know they are at risk of suffering dementia later can draw up wills and enduring powers of attorney while they are still mentally sound, and have them publicly recorded as their wishes on how they and their assets should be treated.
Though Singapore and Hong Kong authorities have begun to address this problem, many other Asian countries have been slow on the uptake. This is despite the fact that the populations in parts of Asia are predicted to age rapidly without an effective legal and social structure to handle the myriad problems of aging.
Dementia is an irreversible fatal brain-wasting disease which weakens the memory, thinking, behaviour and ability to handle daily activities. Patients can continue to live for many years after they have ceased to function mentally. This in turn can result in family conflict with children competing to control the finances of the elder person and cases of fraud and abuse can occur.
The best advice is don’t leave it too late to make a living will. If you are still active but facing a decline in mental capacity, get started on the living will now via a lawyer or other advisor.
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