What Is Elder Abuse and Fraud?

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Elder abuse can occur in many forms. Older Americans become more vulnerable to caregiver neglect,  physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation, theft, and scams deceiving them out of their life’s savings. With each of these events, seniors are robbed of their security and their dignity. 

The National Elder Law Foundation (NELF) and all its members across the country are committed to doing all we can to protect seniors from all forms of elder abuse, exploitation, and fraud. Where it does occur, elders and their family members can contact elder law attorneys in their community to commence immediate legal action to protect the victim, and to put in place the necessary safeguards for their future.

Elders’ Personal Safety and Physical Security

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Family members of elders living at home or in residential facilities take every measure they can to arrange for the safest and most reliable care they can find. Few things are more heartbreaking for a spouse or loved one to learn their family member was physically mistreated by the people in whose care they were trusted. 

How to Spot Signs of Physical Abuse or Neglect of Seniors

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When spending time with an older family member in someone else’s care, whether in their own home or in assisted living or a nursing home, keeping watch for the presence of these things can alert you to trouble:

  • Injuries such as bruises, cuts, bone fractures (bandages, casts, slings)
  • Weight loss
  • Hygiene issues (soiled clothing, smells, infrequent bathing)
  • New symptoms confusion, anxiety, depression
  • Unexplained loss of money or unusual transactions
  • Withdrawal from friends and loved ones
  • Hesitance to talk freely
  • Less frequent social participation
  • Caretaker or elder’s implausible injury explanation 
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How an Elder Law Attorney Can Help 

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Elder law attorneys can draft legal documents permitting family members to assume more control or responsibility if the circumstances support those steps. They can assist you in asserting the victim’s rights in court and seeking significant changes if inadequate care is being provided.

When you suspect someone is the victim of elder abuse or neglect, there are several immediate steps you can take to address the issue without even without a lawyer. Local and state departments of elder affairs maintain hotlines on which abuse and neglect of seniors can be reported 24-hours a day.

When a residential facility is involved, contact the management and notify them of your concerns, including your intentions to alert other authorities. If you are not satisfied with the response or you lack confidence that any improvement will occur, attorneys who practice elder law will work with you to ensure that any threat to the victim of abuse or neglect is eliminated.

Guardianships and Conservatorships

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Ideally, someone close to an elder who is being cared for at home or in a facility  will have already executed legal documents like a Durable Power of Attorney empowering someone to act on their behalf in all important matters they are unable to attend to. 

However, there are circumstances when the Power of Attorney is not sufficiently effective, perhaps because the threat to the senior is outside of the control of the person with Power of Attorney, or because the abuse, neglect, or exploitation is being perpetrated by a family member.

An experienced elder law attorney will file a petition to have the court appoint a legal guardian for the person being subjected to the mistreatment. A guardianship is a powerful legal process in which a trustworthy, capable individual is given the power to exercise comprehensive control over another person’s health and welfare.

A conservatorship is a similar process in which the court authorizes a competent person to manage and control the financial affairs, income, investments, property, and public benefits for a person unable to care for their own financial matters.

Conservators assume control over bank accounts and other assets which prevents elders, especially those experiencing early or advanced symptoms of dementia, from being victimized by scam artists and even family members who take excessive advantage of a senior’s vulnerability to persuasion.

If loving family members could be with their parents or other loved ones continuously, things would be easier for everyone. But since few families have such a luxury, elder care attorneys can construct a protective protocol that will maximize a senior’s safety and security. NELF is the only national organization approved by the ABA to Certify Elder Law Attorneys (CELA).