Elder Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation, Part Three: What Can You Do?

Hook Law News | Jun 18, 2018 | Jennifer S. Rossettini

This is the third article in a three-part series discussing Elder Abuse, Neglect and Exploitation. In Part One, we discussed the definitions for elder abuse and the prevalence of it in our society. In Part Two, we discussed what to watch for in detecting the signs of elder abuse as well as identifying the situations in which our elderly citizens are most vulnerable to abuse. We also discussed what the Federal Government and the State of Virginia are doing to help combat the problem. In this Part Three, we will discuss what you can do to protect yourself, your loved ones, and/or your clients from elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.

The Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) oversees two programs that are helpful in the investigation and remediation of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation: the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program and Adult Protective Services. The Ombudsman Program is mandated to receive, investigate, and resolve complaints made by persons in nursing homes and assisted living facilities, as well as those receiving community based long-term care services. If you need help resolving a problem of this nature, contact your local Ombudsman by calling 1-800-552-3402. Adult Protective Services investigates reports of abuse, neglect and exploitation and local family services specialists arrange for a wide variety of health, housing, social and legal services to stop the mistreatment. Their 24-hour toll-free hotline is 1-888-832-3858.

There are also civil and criminal remedies available through the Courts. Even though Virginia does not have a specific statute creating a cause of action for financial exploitation, those civil remedies that are available include actions for breach of fiduciary duty, negligence, assault and battery, theft by conversion, fraud, rescission of transactions, restitution, and/or an accounting of the actions of a fiduciary. Criminally, a person can be found guilty of larceny for financially exploiting a vulnerable adult. In addition, there are penalties for failing to make a required report of elder abuse ranging from $500 to $1,000.

Often the best remedy for elder abuse is the prevention of elder abuse, and some prevention can be done with the drafting of legal documents and the selection of the right fiduciary to act on your behalf. Some of the legal documents that we recommend our clients have are a General Durable Power of Attorney for financial matters, an Advanced Medical Directive for health-related matters, and a Trust. The most important decision you will make, however, is not to have these documents drafted, but who will serve as your agent or Trustee. To prevent abuse, it is imperative that your agent be someone you can trust. Sounds simple, right? Your agent should be organized, efficient, able to open mail, balance a checkbook, make calls in the business world; have good credit, no bankruptcies, and a proven track record for fiscal responsibility; and must be of high moral character, honest, trustworthy and free of active addictions.

There are also things that professionals who work with elderly clients can do in their everyday practice to prevent and/or be able to detect abuse. The first thing to do is to clearly identify the elder as your client. Regardless if the elder is accompanied to an appointment by family members, friends or other advisors, the professional should have a private conversation with the elder to identify which other individuals are authorized to receive information. It is also important to meet privately with the elder so you can assess their capacity and whether they are being unduly influenced. By the same token, professionals should also have frequent meetings with clients. As their client’s capacity diminishes, the professional should shorten meetings, discuss few topics during each meeting, and meet more frequently. After each meeting, the professional should send a letter to the elderly client with a written summary of the meeting.

Finally, here is a list of some of the other resources available:

  1. National Center on Elder Abuse: ncea.acl.gov
  2. Virginia Adult Protective Services: State Hotline: 888-832-3858
  3. Virginia Family Violence Hotline: 800-838-8238
  4. VA Coalition for the Prevention of Elder Abuse: vcpea.org
  5. Virginia Department for the Aging in Richmond – provides information for local area agencies – https://www.agingcare.com/local/virginia-department-for-the-aging-richmond-area-agency-on-aging-va
  6. Caregiver Resources: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/caringforyourparents/handbook/caringcaregiver/supportgroups.html
  7. Special Needs Trusts Distributions
  8. Sixty&me: Elder Abuse Prevention Resource Guide

Ask Kit Kat – Raccoon on a Ledge

Hook Law Center: Kit Kat, what can you tell us about a raccoon that was stranded on the ledge of a building in St. Paul, MN?

Kit Kat: Well, this is another tale of you humans encroaching on the territory of the animal world. No just kidding. But seriously, more and more wild creatures are appearing in urban areas. This story has a happy ending, fortunately.

On June 12, 2018, a raccoon was spotted in downtown St. Paul climbing the UBS building. The windows don’t open, so bystanders and office workers could only watch helplessly. It is thought this same raccoon was seen on another downtown building a few days earlier, perhaps looking for a source of food like baby pigeons. Nevertheless, the building which is more than 25 stories high, has the perfect surface for climbing. It has a rough surface and there were ledges at each window. So the raccoon took all day in its ascent to the top. It never considered going down, only going up. It rested at the 12th floor, the 22nd floor, and the 23rd floor. Then there was a wide lip of rough surface around the top. In the early hours of the following morning (June 13), it made it to the top. Waiting for it (sorry, don’t know the gender) were several live traps with wet cat food which were supplied by animal-control authorities. The plan worked, and it was trapped safely.

Soon the raccoon will be relocated to a more suitable area. While I’m sure the people in downtown St. Paul were mesmerized by this little creature, the pictures showed it scared and tired. It’s wonderful that this one little creature will get another chance to exist, hopefully, in a more appropriate environment. (Karen Brulliard and Keith McMillan, “Raccoon triumphs over skyscraper in a climb that captivated the internet, celebrates with cat food,” The Washington Post, (Animalia section), June 13, 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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