Elder mistreatment (i.e. abuse and neglect) is defined as intentional actions that cause harm or create a serious risk of harm (whether or not harm is intended) to a vulnerable elder by a caregiver or other person who stands in a trust relationship to the elder. This includes failure by a caregiver to satisfy the elder’s basic needs or to protect the elder from harm (physical, emotional, sexual, financial, etc.)
Unfortunately, we don’t know for certain how many people are suffering from elder abuse and neglect, however, data from state Adult Protective Services (APS) agencies show an increasing trend in the reporting of elder abuse. Some statistics for cases of reported abuse are in the neighborhood of 1 in 10 elders and that doesn’t even account for financial abuse! (In a 2011 study in New York, financial exploitation was self-reported at a rate of 41 per 1,000 surveyed, which was higher than self-reported rates of emotional, physical, and sexual abuse or neglect.)
This month, elder abuse reform legislation was introduced in the DC Council’s Judiciary & Public Safety Committee. The bill (B20-107) is known as “The Charles and Hilda Mason’s Elder Abuse Clarification Act of 2013.” It would “establish stricter penalties for elder abuse or failure to report elder abuse, create more autonomy for elders, increase penalties for elder abuse, establish financial abuse as a form of elder abuse and prevent a convicted abuser from inheriting from” his or her victim.
Specifically, the proposed legislation:
As we await the outcome of the DC legislation, one thing is clear: If you wait until you become unable to make decisions for yourself, you are at a higher risk for abuse. Similarly, advances in medical care mean that the Boomer generation will be living longer than generations before them, also increasing their risk for elder abuse.
In the estate planning community, we know that, regardless of state laws, there are steps that adults can take to prevent being abused down the line – particularly when it comes to financial abuse. Advanced estate and elder planning, by an experienced Elder Law Attorney, can put in place provisions (as well as checks and balances) to protect both you and your assets down the line.