(Note: The pdf for the issue in which this article appears is available for download: Bifocal, Vol. 36, Issue 2.)
Since 1993, the Commission has been at the forefront of efforts to expand and improve the justice system’s role in preventing, detecting, and remedying the devastating problem of elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation (which we’ll just call elder abuse for short). This year those activities were concentrated in four areas.
Educating and Providing Tools to Justice System Professionals
Criminal justice professionals (law enforcement and community corrections officials, and prosecutors) are the target audience for two new Commission publications released in October: Legal Issues Related to Elder Abuse: A Pocket Guide for Law Enforcement and Legal Issues Related to Elder Abuse: A Desk Guide for Law Enforcement.
Victims, advocates, and adult protective services and other professionals have long bemoaned a lack of responsiveness by criminal justice professionals to allegations of elder abuse. Training opportunities in many states and communities have helped raise awareness. The pocket guide supplements those efforts by explaining legal concepts, documents, and tools that may be misused to commit elder abuse or used properly to remedy it. It is a small, durable, user-friendly tabbed quick-reference tool that may be carried in a pocket or attached to a patrol car visor. The more comprehensive desk guide can serve as a training resource.
The Bureau of Justice Assistance, an entity of the U.S. Department of Justice, supported the development, printing, and dissemination of 23,000 laminated pocket guides. A PDF of the pocket guide is available and a desk guide PDF will be available soon.
Visit www.ambar.org/ElderAbuseGuides for more information. The Commission is actively seeking funding to produce more laminated pocket guides and to create an app for mobile devices.
Lawyers can play a critical role in preventing, detecting, and remedying elder abuse. They also can unwittingly facilitate it or, even worse, deliberately participate in it. To facilitate the former and to help prevent the latter, the Commission has entered into a partnership with the Investor Protection Trust (IPT) and Investor Protection Institute (IPI), which are nonprofit organizations devoted to investor education and protection. The initiative is known as the Elder Investment Fraud and Financial Exploitation Prevention Program – Legal (EIFFE—Legal). Its goal is to educate lawyers to:
- recognize clients’ possible vulnerability to exploitation due to mild cognitive impairment,
- identify signs of exploitation affecting their clients, and
- report suspected exploitation to appropriate authorities.
To do this, EIFFE—Legal will develop and pilot test in six states a model national continuing legal education (CLE) curriculum that is intended for practitioners in a wide array of specialties, such as elder law, trust and estate law, family law, general practice, business law, tax law, and administrative and government law. Additionally, the Commission will provide an ABA CLE webinar during 2015. Once the pilot phase is complete, the program will be rolled out nationwide.
EIFFE—Legal was successfully kicked-off at the ABA Annual Meeting in August with a Showcase CLE program titled The Epidemic of Elder Financial Exploitation: Ethical Traps for Lawyers & Skills Every Lawyer Needs. It was one of 32 Showcase programs selected from over 200 proposals and was co-sponsored by thirteen other ABA entities. It was moderated by Commission chair David M. English and featured a panel of national experts who covered an array of topics:
- Lori Stiegel, EIFFE—Legal director and Commission senior attorney, provided an overview of the many forms of elder financial exploitation.
- Patricia D. Struck, a Commission member, Wisconsin’s state securities regulator, and a former IPT trustee, spoke about investment fraud and the role of securities regulators in educating and protecting investors.
- Dr. Daniel C. Marson, clinical neuropsychologist and professor in the Department of Neurology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham, discussed research on financial decision-making capacity that explains vulnerability to fraud and financial exploitation.
- Bruce S. Ross, used his experience as a member of the legal team representing Mickey Rooney against his exploiter, to illustrate relevant ethical issues and to provide practice tips.
- Elizabeth Loewy, a lead prosecutor of the Brooke Astor case, discussed what her office considers when investigating attorneys involved in questionable trust and estate matters related to older or impaired clients.
Educating Other Professionals about the Law
The Commission continued striving to raise awareness among non-legal professionals about the laws relevant to elder abuse and the ways in which the justice system can help victims or punish perpetrators. Highlights included presentations at various national and state conferences including the Corporation for Enterprise Development’s Assets Learning Conference and the annual meetings of the Gerontological Society of America, the North American Securities Administrators Association, and the National Adult Protective Services Association. Topics included the growing role of the legal system in combating elder abuse, the relationship between diminished financial capacity and financial exploitation, power of attorney abuse and the benefits of the Uniform Power of Attorney Act, and undue influence committed by professionals.
Educating Older Persons and Lay Fiduciaries
The Managing Someone Else’s Money guides that the Commission produced for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) Office for Older Americans last year have been extremely successful. More than 450,000 print copies of the national guides (for agents under powers of attorney, court-appointed guardians of property and conservators, representative payees and VA fiduciaries, and trustees under a revocable living trust) have been disseminated. The guides may also be downloaded online for free. The guides have received very favorable media attention. Forbes blogger Carolyn Rosenblatt wrote “About Aging Parents: Something The Government Got Right (For A Change)” on October 1st, saying:
I think they did a fine job on this. Maybe that’s not the way I would comment on a lot of other confusing or poorly written government efforts at educating the public. And they don’t teach you this stuff in school. My hat’s off to the CFPB.
Advocating for Stronger Laws and Policies
Supported by ABA policy, the Commission engaged in numerous efforts to strengthen federal and state laws and policies. These activities included participation in the Elder Justice Roadmap steering committee and implementation efforts; technical assistance to federal agencies including the Administration for Community Living, CFPB, Department of Justice, Federal Trade Commission, Securities and Exchange Commission, and Social Security Administration on financial exploitation issues; technical assistance to and trainings for multiple states on power of attorney abuse, elder abuse fatality review teams, and court-focused elder abuse initiatives; participation in national policy roundtables, forums, and summits; and collaboration with the ABA’s Governmental Affairs Office to send letters to Congress in support of appropriations for the Elder Justice Act as well as for expansion and reauthorization of elder abuse-related provisions in the Older Americans Act. ■