Florida has some pretty good legal protections for our elders. We have civil and criminal laws protecting the vulnerable. The Department of Elder Affairs has an Elder Abuse, Neglect & Exploitation hotline (800-96-ABUSE) and also offers online and fax options for reporting suspected elder abuse, neglect or exploitation.
Under Florida law, EVERYONE – not just doctors, caregivers, or financial professionals – has a legal obligation to report suspected abuse, neglect, or exploitation. If certain parameters are met, the Agency conducts an investigation, which may include engaging law enforcement and the Dept. of Children and Families.
But while physical abuse or neglect can be pretty obvious, and the elder or their caregivers have recourse to legal, protective, and even criminal recourse, financial exploitation often presents a different problem. While caring family members or a government agency are investigating the potential exploitation, the exploiter often continues to drain the elder’s finances and may even threaten the elder to keep him or her quiet.
On July 1, 2018, a new Florida statute, F.S. 825.1035, will create a legal process for the elder, an organization acting on behalf of the consenting elder, or the elder’s court-appointed guardian to ask a judge to temporarily (up to 15 days) freeze the assets in question and prohibit contact between the exploiter and the elder. It’s called an Injunction for Protection Against the Exploitation of a Vulnerable Adult.
Under Florida law, a “vulnerable adult” is someone 18 years or older who is unable to care for or protect herself, or whose ability to perform certain activities of daily living (bathing, dressing, walking, etc.) is impaired due to a disability or the infirmities of aging. There’s no requirement in the definition that the adult lack mental capacity, although some of the provisions in the new law do require mental incapacity.
The injunction is issued without giving the alleged exploiter any warning. A hearing is held after 15 days, and the alleged exploiter is allowed to answer the charges against him or her. Then the judge decides whether to continue the injunction, to order the alleged exploiter to perform certain actions, or to order other relief necessary to protect the elder.
This article is a basic, overly-simplified explanation of the new law. There are requirements, limitations, and procedures that must be followed. If you or someone you know is being financially exploited by a family member, friend, caregiver or even a business, contact an Elder Law attorney to find out the best options for you and your family.