I was the final speaker at the Academy’s Spring Summit event in Williamsburg, VA, which ended a few days ago. The speaker immediately preceding me was Dana Fitzsimons, who gave a great talk on Elder Abuse.
Elder abuse can take many forms:
- Financial exploitation
Whatever form abuse takes, there are a few things we know about it:
- It is prevalent. Elder abuse is underreported, but the U.S. Administration on Aging believes that nearly two million older Americans are abused each year.
- It crosses racial and socioeconomic borders. Wealth, and even fame, does not provide immunity from abuse. Consider the cases of Mickey Rooney and Brooke Astor.
- Most elder abuse is perpetrated by caregivers – often these caregivers are family members.
As estate planning and elder law attorneys, we are in a unique position to be able to identify and help abuse victims. Not only do we encounter aging clients and their families on a regular basis, we’re often privy to sensitive, personal information. So, we need to be prepared in case we suspect an instance of abuse.
The first order of business is to know the signs of elder abuse. Considering our line of work, we should be particularly alert to the signs of financial exploitation. Perhaps the bigger issue, though, is what to do if you suspect abuse.
First, talk to the older person when you are alone with them to gather more information about what is actually going on. Be aware, though, that victims of abuse are rarely eager to identify themselves as victims.
Second, familiarize yourself with your community’s resources, and take steps to get help for the victim:
- Contact your state “Adult Protective Services” (or similar agency), your local police department, and/or another local agency tasked with investigating allegations of abuse.
- Find out how your local courts address elder abuse cases, and whether there are specific programs or services available. Seek a temporary protective order on behalf of the victim.
- Consult the ElderCare Locator (1-800-677-1116) to find out about local counseling, support, and other services.
- Consult the ABA Commission on Law and Aging, the National Center on Elder Abuse, or another similar group for information and advice.
Have you encountered victims of elder abuse in your practice? If so, what have you done about it?
Stephen C. Hartnett, J.D., LL.M.
Associate Director of Education
American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, Inc.
9444 Balboa Avenue, Suite 300
San Diego, California 92123
Phone: (800) 846-1555
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