State to take back seat on disinheritance plans for abusers

Parliamentary secretary for the elderly says state should help testators cut off abusive and neglectful relatives from their will, without making such decisions for them 

Justyne Caruana drew harsh criticism when she announced that people who severely abuse or neglect their elderly parents could lose their rights to inheritance
Justyne Caruana drew harsh criticism when she announced that people who severely abuse or neglect their elderly parents could lose their rights to inheritance

A proposed law will not allow the government to decide which people are cut out of testators’ wills, parliamentary secretary for the elderly Justyne Caruana ensured.

Caruana drew harsh criticism last September when she announced that people who severely abuse or neglect their elderly parents could lose their rights to inheritance. In such cases, the state would take charge of the elderly people’s assets upon death.

“The Bill aims to protect vulnerable adults, but it is proving very complicated,” Caruana told Saviour Balzan on Monday night’s edition of Reporter. “However, we are proposing that testators get to cut off relatives from their wills in cases of abuse, that can be physical, psychological or financial.

“We must be very careful in that the state should only get to play a limited role and should in no way get to decide for the testators who gets cut out of their will. However, the state should provide all the necessary tools for testators to defend themselves.”

Monday night’s programme focused on dementia, that the World Health Organisation has described as a “silent tsunami” that is expected to have a massive impact on governments’ healthcare budgets. 

According to a 2012 study by university lecturer Anthony Scerri, around 10,000 people in Malta will have dementia by 2030 – a significant increase from the current 6,000.

Caruana noted that Malta last year launched a national dementia strategy, that aims to pre-empt this problem by, as much as possible, placing the onus on dementia patient care on families and communities.

“We are training informal carers on how to look after people with dementia, and recently set up a dementia helpline and a dementia intervention team,” she said. “Of course, in some cases, the care provided by communities is not enough and the elderly people have to get transferred to a home.”

She added that government has started activities within old people’s homes to help them keep in touch with reality, tapping into their long-term memory – that remains functional through the earlier stages of dementia.  

“For example, we read Wenzu u Rozi to them, and have reached a deal with the Manoel Theatre for old music to be played in the home’s corridors. An active ageing unit at St Vincent de Paule helps people with dementia out on a one to one basis.

Anthony Scerri, also a guest on the show, urged the public not to treat their elderly relatives as children.

“Around 70% of dementia patients will display some sort of behavioural symptom, such as aggression,” he said. “However, lashing out at them will only aggravate the situation. If you cannot communicate with them on a short-term memory basis, then it could be a good strategy to communicate over long-term memory, such as by showing them photo albums and talking about the past.

“The solution is intergenerational solidarity  - for the current younger generations to realize that they will be old and in need of care in the future as well.”

‘An artistic voyage inspired by Karin Grech patients’

On Reporter, Balzan also interviewed Alfred Buttigieg – the renowned playwright whose play Mela Hawn Xi Manikomju recently hit St James’ Cavalier.

The play tells the emotional story of four elderly women dealing with life in a retirement home. Buttigieg said that he was inspired to write the play after having encountered four elderly people at Karin Grech Hospital, where his mother had been temporarily staying.

“I came across four elderly women with unusual characters in a room, which is what set me off on my artistic voyage,” he said. “I started taking notes; I started observing them, their relatives, the nurses. I could see their frustration, their sense of helplessness, solitude and total dependence, and it made me emotional. I decided to write a play to raise awareness about their situation, to show that there are certain things – such as their frustration at requiring constant attention – that they are still suffering, despite having the best possible care.” 

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