By Adil Daudi, Esq.
On June 15, 2011, the Michigan Senate publicly announced a fifteen-bill package concerning elder abuse. The purpose of the legislation is to help strengthen penalties against perpetrators of elder abuse while also preventing future exploitation, according to the Senate.
The abuse issues facing the elderly have recently risen to new heights. Those fortunate enough to live long are forced to guard against the growing crime since their age makes them especially susceptible to financial victimization. Although the pending Senate package covers physical, emotional, and financial abuse, financial abuse of the elderly can be prevented with the help of attorneys.
The National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), reports that approximately 80,000 Michigan residents are affected by elder abuse. With the United States on the verge of its largest senior citizen population due to baby-boomers reaching retirement age, the problem is only going to be exacerbated.
New Legislation Against Elder Abuse
In mid-June, Senate Bills 454-468 were introduced, and referred to the Senate Committee on Families, Seniors and Human Services, by Michigan State Senators Tonya Schuitmaker, Goeff Hansen, Mike Nofs, Rick Jones, and Steve Bieda.
Senate Bills Directly Related to Financial Exploitation
Senate Bill 455 was introduced by Sen. Tory Rocca, which establishes sentencing guidelines for penalties imposed by Senate Bill 459 for crimes of financial exploitation or embezzlement of a vulnerable adultâ€™s assets. Specifically, Senate Bill 455 states that the sentence maximums for a person who embezzles from a vulnerable adult are: 5 years for embezzlement of $1,000 to $20,000; 10 years for embezzlement of $20,000 to $50,000; 15 years for embezzlement of $50,000 to $100,000; or 20 years for embezzlement of $100,000 or more. Serious violations as defined in Senate Bill 459, would be subject to civil fines of up to the greater of $15,000, or triple the value of the targeted assets. Additionally, the sentencing guidelines for financial exploitation of vulnerable adults were revised, and penalties increased, for perpetrators in Senate Bill 465, introduced by Sen. Dave Hildenbrand.
Senate Bill 463 introduced by Sen. Coleman Young expands the current law to require employees of banks and financial institutions to report financial exploitation of an incapacitated vulnerable adult.
â€œThere are tens of thousands of Michigan seniors who have been criminally abused yet their pain and suffering is rarely reported and has largely gone unnoticed,â€ stated Schuitmaker. The Michigan Senator sponsored Senate Bills 461, 464, and 466. Senate Bill 461 protects the elderly from exploitation while also prescribing a detailed list of rights retained by the appointed guardian or conservator. And, if passed, Senate Bills 464 and 466 will increase coordination between state and local authorities and develop protocols for interviewing and investigating elder abuse.
Nofs stated that he experienced first-hand the impact of elder exploitation as a state police trooper, according to the State News Service. Nofs sponsored bill 454, which allows victims of elder abuse to give testimony through a multimedia format. However, due to constitutional issues, this evidence would be limited to criminal cases where circumstances meet those required by the U.S. Supreme Court.
According to Elder Law of Michigan, although adults 60 and older comprise only 15% of the population, they account for nearly 30% of fraud victims. Consumer fraud robs people of $50 billion per year, and between 1 and 2 million Americans age 65 or older have been injured, exploited, or otherwise mistreated by someone on whom they depended on for care or protection. In 1996, the NCEA reported that almost 90% of elder abuse cases come from family members of the victim, and two-thirds of the perpetrators were adult children or spouses of the victim.
Furthermore, according to the NCEA, there are signs family members can look for to help identify a possible scenario where an elder family member is being financially exploited:
Abrupt changes to estate planning documents;
Sudden appearances of previously distant, uninvolved relatives, who are claiming their rights to an elderâ€™s possessions and assets;
Unexplained sudden transfer of assets to a family member or someone outside the family.
As Mary Alban, the executive director of the Area Agencies on Aging Association of Michigan said, â€œThis is the year to end the abuse.â€
Adil Daudi is an Attorney at Joseph, Kroll & Yagalla, P.C., focusing primarily on Asset Protection for Physicians, Physician Contracts, Estate Planning, Business Litigation, Corporate Formations, and Family Law. He can be contacted for any questions related to this article or other areas of law at firstname.lastname@example.org or (517) 381-2663.