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Examining elder family financial exploitation

What happens when older adults are victims of financial exploitation by someone in their own family? Elder family financial exploitation (EFFE) occurs when a family member as the perpetrator is involved in the illegal, unauthorized, or improper use of an elder’s resources including financial assets or property.

The need

It is widely agreed that the most prevalent and growing type of elder abuse is family financial exploitation. Elder Family Financial Exploitation is part of a larger emerging elder justice crises with unmeasured costs and consequences for elders, their family systems and society. The voices and perspectives of affected family members and elder victims are largely absent from existing literature.

The need for and design of this project has also evolved from ongoing conversations with key Minnesota Elder Justice Center leaders. The mission of the Minnesota Elder Justice Center is to mobilize communities to prevent and alleviate abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation of elders and vulnerable adults. Research is needed to inform public awareness, public policy, and professional education priorities. These priorities align with those identified in the National Elder Justice Roadmap, a joint initiative of the U.S. Departments of Justice, and Health and Human Services.

Why Extension?

As a faculty member with an Extension appointment, Marlene Stum, Ph.D. is well situated to disseminate EFFE research findings and develop research-informed EFFE prevention education. Dr. Stum offers expertise in family economics and gerontology, with knowledge of family decision making processes and outcomes.

Dr. Stum is also an active member in the newly created Human Science Extension North Central Regional Aging Network, an 11-state group working toward increasing the visibility and impact of efforts to improve the health and well-being of adults in later life.

Extension’s response

This study will specifically address the following two major objectives:

  • To gain in-depth understanding of how family members, other than the direct victim and the perpetrator, perceive and articulate the meaning and experience of elder family financial exploitation.
  • To disseminate findings from this study to elders, family members, and professionals who work with family members to advance EFFE prevention education and intervention efforts.

Broader impacts

EFFE is part of a larger complex elder justice crises with immeasurable costs and consequences for elders, their family systems and society (Allianz, 2016; Gunther, 2011, National Center for Elder Justice, 2014; Stiegel, 2012). The impact of elder abuse goes well beyond the economic losses, impacting an elder’s physical, mental, emotional and psychological health and well-being.

There is also an expected ripple effect on the elder’s family system, impacting relationships, functioning, and individual health and well-being of non-perpetrators and perpetrators. The ripple effects continue to communities, and local and state governments. EFFE can result in elders and family members increasing short and longer term reliance on a range of public resources and programs.

EFFE increases the demands on already stretched intervention systems, law enforcement and criminal justice systems. A Government Accounting Office report (2012) found EFFE-related county and state level services, education, and policies fragmented, under-resourced, and uninformed by research and evaluation.


Research began August 2016 and will continue through 2020. Estimated date of dissemination is 2018.

Who’s involved?

Marlene S. Stum, Extension specialist and professor in family social science, is the primary investigator on this Minnesota Agricultural Experiment Station project. For more information on this project, contact Marlene Stum (612-625-4270; mstum@umn.edu).

For more information

To learn more about this topic, explore the following resources.


Reviewed in 2018

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