As the month of June approaches and our calendars become filled with summer vacations, graduations, weddings, and holidays, be sure to mark June 15th and observe World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD). While not as notorious as Memorial Day, July 4th, or Labor Day, observing the significance of WEAAD is extremely important. Whether young or old, chances are you know or will know someone who has been a victim of elder abuse. The mistreatment and neglect of seniors continues to be a huge problem around the world, including our home state. In fact, the Iowa Department on Aging is required to have a task force dedicated to responding to cases of elder abuse, neglect and exploitation.
As an estate planner, I have helped several seniors who have been victims of both neglect and financial exploitation. Unfortunately, in most of these cases, the perpetrator is a close family member of the victim. Iowa lawmakers recently identified elder abuse as an under-reported and underserved issue in our state. Accordingly, just last year the Iowa legislature passed a law which created a process for obtaining a protective order for vulnerable elders subject to abuse. Current bills are pending to define criminal penalties for perpetrators of elder abuse, as well as other related bills.
To help reduce the risk of elder abuse towards you or your loved ones, you should sign a power of attorney which includes a provision for nominating a guardian and conservator should you become unable to manage your own affairs. Keep in mind that once you are of unsound mind, you cannot sign a power of attorney or other legal document. I have had several adult children ask me to prepare Wills or powers of attorney for their adult mother or father who has been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s or a similar condition. Unfortunately, if an adult is not of sound mind, he/she cannot sign the necessary documents. As such, like many other things in life, it’s best to be proactive and plan ahead while you are still able.
Another thing attorneys need to confirm before allowing a person to sign a power of attorney or Will is that he/she is not being unduly influenced. This is particularly a problem among elders, as is evidenced by several classic cases of alleged undue influence – a la twenty-six-year-old Anna Nicole Smith’s marriage to eighty-nine-year-old oil tycoon, J. Howard Marshall.
If you are concerned about a potential victim of elder abuse, make a confidential report with the Department of Human Services at 800-362-2178. Specifically, the Dependent Adult Abuse program provides evaluations and assessments of alleged abused dependent adults. The program offers services and helps abused dependent adults find safe living arrangements.
Abuse, unfortunately, can happen at any age. Take part in observing June 15th as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day, and make sure you and your loved ones are well protected.
The information contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not legal advice or a substitute for legal counsel. You should not act or rely on any information herein.