Seniors can be an easy target for abuse if they don’t have control over their property, writes Sonavi Kher Desai
According to HelpAge India, more than fifty percent of the cases related to abuse of senior citizens are property-related. The pressure on the elderly, usually parents or close relatives, ranges from dividing the property to selling it to writing it off in the name(s) of children during the lifetime of the parents, rendering them vulnerable to ill-treatment.
Lawyers advise that it is not a good idea to sign over the property to others during one’s lifetime. In fact, although it is advised that one should make a Will, it is not a good practice to share your Will with children or relatives during your lifetime. Make a Will and keep it in safe custody either with your lawyer or in some secure place, and do not reveal the contents to anyone. Also, never keep the Will in a bank safe deposit locker because the locker can be accessed only after probate of the Will has been obtained, and probate cannot be granted without the Will.
Factors for abuse
Just as seniors can be victims of property-related abuse due to proximity to the abuser, another factor due to which they can be abused is living alone and in isolation. Nowadays many elders live alone, with children living abroad or separately, and hence they become easy targets for unscrupulous people. Seniors sometimes rent out part of their homes to earn some income and find that the tenant then refuses to vacate the house and abuses them. In such situations, the elderly live in fear and are helpless in taking action. They fear reprisals and therefore fail to approach the police.
The legal recourse for seniors who are abused is to approach the Tribunal under the Maintenance and Welfare of Parents and Senior Citizens Act, 2007. An important provision in the Act relates to the transfer of property, which can be made void under certain circumstances. However, there are several problems that seniors face in order to get justice from the Tribunal. Firstly, not all seniors are mobile enough or have the physical or emotional strength to file a complaint and see it through. Also, there is often a considerable delay in the functioning of the Tribunal. So, although there is legislation for ensuring that seniors are protected, the implementation of the legislation is far from easy.
What to do
For a senior who feels that someone is attempting to grab his/her property, it is important to talk to someone about it. That someone could be your lawyer, doctor, or anyone you can trust. There are also helplines set up by NGOs for such eventualities. Many seniors do not report such issues out of fear or because they are dependent on their abuser in some way. There is also a very strong feeling of protecting the family reputation due to which seniors do not report abuse from their children. If seniors speak out about what is happening to them, it may be possible for NGOs or others to help them. Seniors also need to be educated about their legal rights under the Act.
It is also important to create general awareness about such issues in the minds of people—neighbors, healthcare professionals, and authorities—who can help the elderly report instances of abuse. Police departments need to set up special cells to monitor and reach out to the elderly community, giving them the support they require to become vocal about their problems. The government has a responsibility to protect the elderly and must put more measures in place to ensure that seniors feel confident to report offenders.
Protecting seniors from property-related offenses remains a difficult task despite the available legislation.