Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation, Part One: What is it and Can it Happen to You?

Hook Law News | Mar 23, 2018 | Jennifer S. Rossettini

On February 22, 2018, the Department of Justice issued a press release announcing the “largest coordinated sweep of elder fraud cases in history.” It turns out that more than 250 defendants victimized more than a million Americans, most of whom were elderly, and caused losses in excess of half a billion dollars. The sweep involved both widespread fraud schemes and individual incidents of fraud committed by relatives and fiduciaries. Unfortunately, this is not a new phenomenon and, with today’s demographic data, it is a situation that certainly has the potential to get worse in the very near future. This is a first in a series of articles about elder abuse and exploitation, which are designed to raise awareness of the issue and provide some useful tools for protecting your family members, friends, neighbors and clients.

The population of adults over the age of 65 will nearly double in the next four decades, rising from 43.1 million in 2012 to 83.7 million in 2050. By 2030, adults over 65 will make up more than 20% of the U.S. population.  The same 20% of the population will comprise 54% of the nation’s wealth.  In addition, of this age group, 1 in 4 of them will live past age 90 and 1 in 10 will live past age 95. The larger and older our elderly population gets, the more risk there is of someone becoming a victim of elder abuse.

Definitions of elder abuse differ between federal and state agencies as well as between different states. In Virginia, §63.2-100 of the Virginia Code differentiates between “abuse,” “neglect,” and “exploitation.” Adult (“adult” is defined in §63.2-1603 as any person over age 60, or any person over age 18 who is incapacitated) abuse is defined as the willful infliction of physical pain, injury or mental anguish or unreasonable confinement of an adult. Adult neglect means that an adult is living under such circumstances that he or she is not able to provide for themselves, or is not being provided services necessary to maintain their physical and mental health and that the failure to receive such services impairs or threatens their well-being. Adult exploitation means the illegal, unauthorized, improper, or fraudulent use of an adult or his funds, property, benefits, resources, or other assets for another’s profit, benefit, or advantage, including a caregiver or person serving in a fiduciary capacity, or that deprives the adult of his rightful use or access to such funds, property, benefits, resources or other assets. Interesting to note is that the terms “unauthorized,” “improper” and “fraudulent” did not exist in this Code section until 2017. Prior to that, the act of using an adult’s funds for another’s benefit had to have been illegal in order for it to fall within the definition of exploitation.

The revised Code section further states that adult exploitation includes:

  1. An intentional breach of a fiduciary obligation to an adult to his detriment or an intentional failure to use the financial resources of an adult in a manner that results in neglect of such adult;
  2. The acquisition, possession, or control of an adult’s financial resources or property through the use of undue influence, coercion, or duress; and
  3. Forcing or coercing an adult to pay for goods or services or perform services against his will for another’s profit, benefit, or advantage if the adult did not agree, or was tricked, misled, or defrauded into agreeing, to pay for such goods or services or to perform such services.

Now that you know how Virginia defines Elder Abuse, you may be wondering: well, how prevalent is this problem and can it happen to me? The answer can be found in some statistics, but because many incidents happen between and among family members, they go unreported. Here is what we do know:

Nationwide, elder abuse is experienced by an estimated one out of every ten people, ages 60 and older, who lives at home. For every one case of elder abuse that is detected or reported, it is estimated that approximately 23 cases remain hidden. In Virginia, for fiscal year 2017, Adult Protective Services (APS) received a total of 8,408 substantiated reports of abuse of adults over the age of 60. Of those reports that were filed, 60% of the victims were female; 70% of the incidences occurred in the adult’s own home; and 11.5% of the incidents involved financial exploitation. Substantiated reports rose by 12% from fiscal year 2016 and financial exploitation cases alone rose by 20%.

In the next part of the series, we will discuss what to watch out for and what is being done by federal, state and local agencies to combat the problem. The final part of the series will discuss what you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and/or your clients.

Ask Kit Kat – Rewilding Carnivores

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what does it mean to ‘rewild’ carnivores?

Kit Kat: Well, that is a technical term meaning that wild animals that were previously missing in a particular area, are re-introduced to the area by the efforts of humans. A prime example is the rewilding of gray wolves in Yellowstone National Park. In the early 1900s, it would have been difficult to spot a gray wolf, but not so today. In the 1990s, the experiment with rewilding began in Yellowstone and Idaho. The efforts have been extremely successful.

The nice thing, though, is that with rewilding it was found there were unintended, positive consequences. Wolves thinned deer and elk herds, which had denuded many valleys of vegetation.

That led to the return of trees and shrubs, which led to the return of certain birds and beaver. Bears and raptors consumed carrion. More trees also meant less erosion, so rivers became fuller which fostered other habitats. ‘We’re just uncovering these effects of large carnivores at the same time their populations are declining and are at risk’, says Dr.William Ripple, an ecologist at Oregon State University.

Unfortunately, rewilding will not work for all endangered species in all places. Dr. Ripple and a postdoctoral research assistant named Christopher Wolf have analyzed hundreds of possible rewilding sites from a database of protected areas around the world. To be successful, there must be room for reproduction, a food source appropriate for the species, and humans who will not interfere and hunt them. In the United States, they came up with 2 other areas which might be suitable for rewilding—gray wolves in Olympic National Park in Washington State and red wolves in Everglades National Park in Florida.

In the developing world, rewilding will not be so easy. Many animals in those areas are used for food survival or in traditional medicines. According to Layla AbdelRahim, an anthropologist who has studied human understanding of wilderness, “Perhaps the solution is rethinking what it means to be humans in a natural world. We must recognize our role as partners with the environment, rather than dominators, to maintain functioning ecosystems.” (Joanna Klein, “’Rewilding’ Missing Carnivores May Help Restore Some Landscapes,” The New York Times, Science-Trilobites section, March 16, 2018)

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Jennifer S. Rossettini

Attorney, Shareholder, CFP®
757-399-7506 | 252-722-2890
[email protected]

Jennifer Rossettini is a Shareholder of Hook Law where she focuses her practice in the areas of elder law, estate planning, estate and trust administration, and financial planning. Her practice includes complex estate planning for clients with a net worth over $5 million as well as simple plans for individuals with very limited assets. Ms. Rossettini rejoined the firm in 2018 after spending ten years as a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™ professional with the wealth management divisions of two regional financial institutions. She is a member of the Financial Planning Association, serving as Secretary for the Hampton Roads chapter and serves on the Board of Directors of the non-profit organization, PrimePlus Senior Centers. Jennifer lives in Virginia Beach with her husband and two daughters. She is active in the Girl Scout organization, serving as both a troop leader and as the treasurer for the local Service Unit.

Practice Areas

  • Elder Law
  • Estate & Trust Administration
  • Estate Planning
  • Financial Planning
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