A new legislative act will help protect senior citizens from abuse, neglect and exploitation.
The Protecting Alabama’s Elders Act, passed this week by the Alabama House and Senate, better defines abuse of the elderly and strengthens financial protection for individuals 60 and older.
Among the changes, the law defines three degrees of elder abuse and neglect, ranging from a Class A felony for intentional abuse and neglect that leads to serious physical injury to a Class A misdemeanor for reckless emotional abuse.
Among the biggest changes, however, is the financial exploitation rule, which now gives law enforcement the ability to arrest individuals with power of attorney if they are exploiting a senior citizen.
“One of the things that we’ve noticed a great deal of lately, we see a lot of financial exploitation going on, both in terms of the classic con artists who talk them out of their money, but also increasingly a number of family members who exploit their elders,” said Clayton Davis, a local attorney. “For example, an individual may have power of attorney and begin to misuse that power, and the individual with power of attorney begins paying his or her own bills out of the elder’s account or even simply taking the money, taking control of it and at some point abandoning the senior.”
Prior to passage of the new act, reclaiming a senior citizen’s money from a family member was an uphill battle.
“The problem prior to the act passing was that law enforcement and prosecution could not get involved and do anything about power of attorney abuse cases because there were no criminal sanctions for that,” Davis said. “That meant the elder would have to file a civil lawsuit against the relative or con artist, otherwise Medicaid would not cover them if they needed nursing home care.”
Further complicating matters, if the court ruled in favor of the senior citizen, the defendant could file for bankruptcy and wipe out the payments owed, Davis said.
“The big thing about the new act is stiffer penalties for things that already were illegal and some completely new things, like abusing power of attorney, can result in criminal penalties now,” Davis said. “We’re very excited about the new law, as it gives us some new tools to pursue people doing this and may also deter some people who would otherwise not have been deterred.”
Debbie Reed, manager of Rose Hill Senior Center, also hopes the act works as a deterrent.
“People basically are good people, but sometimes they might make decisions that aren’t the best for seniors,” Reed said. “This law might encourage them to ask questions before they do things off the cuff without consideration of the repercussions. You really need to become educated about what you’re doing when your dealing with a senior.”
Davis said most elder abuse cases involve more than $2,500 and will now result in felony charges.
The new law classifies first-degree financial exploitation of an elderly person as any financial exploitation of a person 60 or older as a Class B felony if the value of the property taken exceeds $2,500.
A value between $500 and $2,500 warrants a Class C felony, while anything less than $500 is a Class A misdemeanor.
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