Legal Protections for the Elderly

by Robin Elizabeth Margolis
Legal protections for the elderly are improving.

Legal protections for the elderly are improving.

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In 2010, 13 percent of the American population was 65 years of age or older, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. Over the next two decades, the number of U.S. citizens older than age 64 will double. If you are concerned about an elderly friend or relative who may be suffering from abuse or exploitation, there are many resources that you can access to learn more about legal protections for him.

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Dangers to Elderly

The National Center on Elder Abuse lists several areas in which elderly Americans need legal protection. Seniors experience abuse in two primary categories: in-person abuse and financial abuse. In-person abuse -- physical, emotional and sexual abuse, neglect and abandonment -- is usually inflicted by insiders close to the elderly person, such as family, friends and caregivers. Financial abuse -- theft and misuse of the elderly person's assets -- can be carried out by insiders or by outsiders, con artists specializing in preying on the elderly.

In-person Abuse

If you believe that an elderly relative, friend or acquaintance is being physically, emotionally or sexually abused, or neglected or abandoned, visit the National Center on Elder Abuse's "State Directory of Helplines, Hotlines, and Elder Abuse Prevention Resources," and call your local adult protective services agency. Depending on your state's precise laws, you may also have the option of calling a state agency responsible for the elderly. You may be required to call the police at "911" if your elderly relative or friend is in imminent danger. If you are uncertain about what constitutes abuse symptoms, the School of Social Welfare at the University of California, Berkeley, offers "Instruments for Assessing Elder Mistreatment," which spells out various signs of abuse.

Insider Financial Abuse

Financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly takes many forms. Among family, friends and caretakers, financial abuse usually stems from someone close to the elderly person securing a power of attorney document giving them control of the elderly person's financial affairs. Family members and friends who wish to intervene should contact an elder law attorney for guidance in replacing the agent for power of attorney with another family member or a legal guardian. A few states, including Arizona, have statutes that make abuse of power of attorney a criminal offense, so that the abusive agent can be sent to prison. In other states, your lawyer may only have the option of filing a civil suit and taking the control of your elderly friend's or relative's affairs away from the exploitative agent.

Outsider Financial Abuse

The Federal Bureau of Investigation -- FBI -- offers advice to elderly Americans and those close to them about protecting themselves from con artists outside of their immediate social circles. According to "Fraud Target: Senior Citizens," an FBI website essay, elderly Americans are usually subjected to nationwide scams involving healthcare equipment, health insurance, counterfeit prescription drugs, funeral and cemetery deals, anti-aging products and reverse mortgage arrangements. The FBI encourages you to report any online scams directed at the elderly to the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center or to call your local FBI office.