Elder abuse is an intentional or negligent act by a person that causes harm, or a serious risk of harm, to an older person. This may take the form of physical abuse, sexual abuse, psychological abuse, neglect or financial exploitation. Although its true prevalence is unknown, available evidence dictates the conclusion that it is widespread and serious. Older persons whose cognitive functioning is impaired due to Alzheimer's and other dementia are especially likely to become elder abuse victims.
Elder Abuse - What It Is and What to Do About It
A law protecting elderly Iowans against abuse went into effect July 1, 2014. The law expands protections in Iowa against abuse to a “Vulnerable Elder”. The new law adds to protections already in place for dependent adults against caretakers. Other protections already in place are under Iowa's domestic abuse law, as well as under criminal law.
Who is a vulnerable elder?
Vulnerable elder is defined as “a person sixty years of age or older who is unable to protect himself or herself from elder abuse as a result of age or a mental or physical condition.”
What is included in the definition of elder abuse?
Elder abuse under the new law includes:
- Physical injury, unreasonable confinement, punishment or assault,
- Sexual offense,
- Neglect - which is deprivation of necessary care by a caretaker, and
- Financial exploitation
Though these are actions that may have protections elsewhere under the legal system, they sometimes fall through the cracks.
What can someone do who is concerned about elder abuse?
The new law provides for the vulnerable elder or a substitute to petition the court to stop the abuse. This process is similar to Iowa's civil domestic abuse petition.
A Substitute petitioner means a family or household member, guardian, conservator, attorney in fact, or guardian ad litem for a vulnerable elder, or other interested person. Including “other interested person” as a substitute petitioner greatly expands who may petition the court to stop the abuse.
What kind of relief can you get if you file a petition?
The petition can result in an emergency or temporary order. After a hearing the court can issue a protective order or approve a consent agreement. The protective order or consent agreement cannot exceed one year. The order can be extended after another hearing.
Protections and remedies under the order are somewhat similar to protections available under Iowa's Domestic Abuse Law. This includes protections for personal safety, safe housing, and also protections and remedies concerning financial exploitation. Examples are:
- Restricting defendant's contact with the vulnerable elder to stop abuse, harassment, intimidation, etc.
- Moving the defendant from the elder person's home or requiring the defendant to find housing for the vulnerable elder, and
- Requiring the defendant to return property or funds as well as prohibiting transfer of funds and property.
Does the law address financial exploitation?
In particular, the law provides greater protection from financial exploitation for elders as their health declines. This is a major area of abuse that often is discovered after assets are gone. Financial exploitation is when a person in a position of trust or confidence with the vulnerable elder takes advantage of the elder's financial situation. This means the trusted person knowingly and by undue influence, deception, coercion, fraud, or extortion, obtains control over or otherwise uses or diverts the benefits, property, resources, belongings or assets of the vulnerable elder.
The definition for a person who “stands in trust or confidence” is broad. In addition to family members, and caretaker, it includes “a person who is in a confidential relationship with the vulnerable elder.”
What if the vulnerable elder can't handle his or her own affairs?
The court order cannot allow anyone other than the vulnerable elder to take responsibility for the elder's finances and affairs. A guardianship or conservatorship may need to be set up if the vulnerable elder cannot make decisions for herself or himself.
What are the penalties if the order is not followed?
The protective order is to state whether a person is to be taken into custody by a peace office for violation of the terms. Penalties include contempt actions. The court may also order that the defendant pay attorney fees and court costs.
Are there forms available for self represented litigants to use?
Forms are available on the Iowa Courts website. The form is called a Petition for Relief from Elder Abuse. You can download it at http://www.iowacourts.gov/courts_rules_forms/elder_abuse