Federal elder abuse on the way (hopefully)

Congress is looking at a bill that would stiffen the penalties for committing fraud against seniors.

The Elder Abuse and Prosecution Act, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa and others, would also better train federal investigators and prosecutors to handle financial crimes against the elderly. The bill, if it passes, would ensure that each federal judicial district includes at least one prosecutor in charge of elder abuse cases. The U.S. Justice Department would train state and local authorities on how to recognize and make arrests in elder abuse instances.

Penalties for telemarketing and email marketing fraud against seniors would increase under the law.

“Improved collaboration, enforcement and awareness with make society a safer place for our loved ones who deserve to be treated with dignity and respect,” Grassley, 83, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in February.

A nearly identical bill failed to pass last year because senators ran out of time before the end of the session, according to media reports.

This year, if it passes the Senate and House, the Elder Abuse and Prosecution Act would allow for collection of elder abuse cases by federal authorities. Nonprofit organizations that support older people, including American Association of Retired Persons, have said that the reason so few cases of financial elder abuse are prosecuted is because there are no statistics available to back up claims that it is a huge problem in the U.S. There is nothing to base a case on.

Sen. Susan Collins, the chair of the Senate Aging Committee, is a co-sponsor of Grassley’s legislation. Collins, of Maine, also has a bill on the table to increase protections for older Americans. It would give immunity to financial advisors, banks, credit unions, brokers and others in the financial industry who otherwise would hesitate to report suspected financial elder abuse on the part of their clients, fearing a privacy lawsuit.

In 2014, Florida lawmakers revised a state law to made it easier for prosecutors to try cases of financial exploitation of seniors. The statute goes after people who use funds, assets, or property of elderly residents for personal gain. It also targets people who breach fiduciary duties, misappropriate money and fail to use a senior’s income and assets for the necessities required for their care and livelihood.

Our experienced and trusted estate planning attorneys have been serving Treasure Coast families for decades, and Michael Fowler is one of only nine attorneys in the state of Florida who is double board-certified in wills trusts and estates and in elder law.  Contact us for your initial consultation at one of our conveniently located offices in Fort Pierce, Stuart, Port St. Lucie, Vero Beach, and Okeechobee.

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