According to the Arizona Department of Economic Security, allegations of adult abuse are increasing. In fiscal year 2020, there were 5,593 reports of abuse, 5,616 reports of neglect and 6,343 reports of exploitation. As horrible as these numbers are, many more cases are likely unreported. So, what can be done?
Arizona has a state law known as the Arizona Adult Protective Services Act (APSA). This law protects adults that are either vulnerable or incapacitated. Under the law, someone is vulnerable if they cannot protect themselves from abuse, neglect or exploitation by others due to a physical or mental impairment. A.R.S. § 46-451(A)(10).
Common examples of exploiting a vulnerable adult are essentially types of stealing. They include unauthorized use of credit or debit cards, theft of personal property, and forgery on deeds and on other legal documents.
There are some warning signs of possible abuse. They include a sudden abnormal amount of financial activity (including refinanced mortgages) or sudden changes to vehicle titles or to real estate deeds. If an elderly person becomes secluded from their family and their friends, that could also indicate a potential problem.
The APSA has provisions authorizing vulnerable adults, conservators, personal representatives and interested persons to file a lawsuit. A.R.S. § 46-456(G). If the lawsuit is successful, the prevailing party can recover monetary damages and their attorneys’ fees. Other possibilities include punitive damages, pain and suffering, and severing the abuser’s claim to joint tenancy property. If you want to pursue litigation, you should speak with an elder law attorney prior to doing so.
Another option is to report suspected elder abuse, neglect or exploitation to Adult Protective Services. You can do so online at azdes.gov/reportadultabuse or by calling 1-877-SOS-ADULT (1-877-767-2385).
Our elderly friends, parents and grandparents should hold a treasured place in our lives. At one point, not that long ago, they likely protected us. We have a moral obligation to protect them now.