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Wasson Report 3.29.2012

Expanding Protections

For the Elderly

This week in the Missouri Senate, we passed Senate Bill 689, legislation that would go far in increasing protections for the elderly and disabled. I have always believed we have a duty to protect the most vulnerable members of our society, and this bill would allow our state to stop those who commit a particular type of crime against the elderly and disabled.

Often, seniors and the disabled give a relative power of attorney. This legal setup has both pros and cons. On the one hand, it allows the grantor, or the person giving the power of attorney, to plan for future assistance and gives the agent access to the grantor’s money or property in case of emergency. But, these arrangements have little or no oversight and give the agent unlimited access to the senior or disabled person’s money and property. While this setup is common and often used for the good of the grantor, abuse of that power does happen.

We have laws to protect the elderly and disabled from blatant theft. However, there exists a blind spot in the law that does not account for someone who uses less direct methods. Under current law, financial exploitation of elderly or disabled individuals is defined as using deception, intimidation or force to obtain control of their property. But, this has left a gray area. Many prosecutors have encountered cases where a person used his or her influence to steal from a senior or disabled person, but did not quite cross the line into outright deception or intimidation.

For example, a grandson may convince his elderly grandmother, who suffers from dementia, to purchase him a brand new $100,000 sports car. Now, the grandson did not use deception or intimidation to do this. He only used his influence, as a trusted family member, to convince her to do something that was not in her best interest. Without having crossed that legal line of deception, intimidation or force, there is no real way for authorities to address the situation.

This is not right. Financial exploitation of the elderly and disabled is a serious crime, made all the worse because they often have limited resources. These incidents can utterly devastate them, and not only financially. The people who commit these crimes are usually close to the victim and have legal authority to act in that person’s name. That they would use that power to take advantage of the person they were supposed to protect and care for is both sad and despicable.

Senate Bill 689 would add undue influence – defined as a person who uses his or her authority over an elderly or disabled person to take unfair advantage of that person, including various types of improper use of financial authority – to the types of acts that constitute a crime of financial exploitation.

I am in full support of this legislation. We must ensure the laws we have are sufficient to protect our elderly and disabled citizens. This legislation would greatly increase protections for those members of our society and allow authorities to address these heinous situations. Senate Bill 689 now goes to the House for similar consideration.

For more information on preventing elder abuse, visit www.health.mo.gov. If you know or suspect of a situation where an elderly person is being abused, contact the elder abuse hotline at 1-800-392-0210.

 

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