World Elder Abuse Awareness Day (WEAAD) is June 15, 2017. Abuse of the elderly and vulnerable is a scourge on our community, and the Tennessee Legislature is jumping in to try and help. The most recent legislative session saw four new laws enacted to stop this financial exploitation. As one of my colleagues, Nicole Osborne, summarized of the bills when they were awaiting the governor's signature, "Don't mess with Grandma… or her banker."
The first law, called the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Financial Exploitation Prevention Act, will test the waters on allowing banks to delay or stop suspected attempts to exploit adults over age 65 or adults with physical or mental disabilities. The law in its current form takes effect July 1, 2017 and will only last two years before expiring. However, until then, banks suspecting financial exploitation can delay or stop transactions from occurring on accounts owned by a vulnerable or elderly adult or a suspected exploiter. Banks may also refuse to accept a power of attorney who is believed to be committing similar financial exploitation. Banks may also offer the elderly or vulnerable adult the opportunity to list individuals authorized to be contacted by the bank in the event it suspects potential exploitation. If the law is successful, the Legislature may consider making this a permanent law.
The second law adds a new section called the Senior Exploitation Reporting and Records to the state securities laws and takes effect immediately. The new section permits investment advisors, broker-dealers, and others who suspect financial exploitation of adults over age 65 or adults with physical or mental disabilities to delay transactions, notify the state and family members, or both. This law, while narrower in scope than the first law, has no expiration date.
The third law applies to nursing homes and assisted living facilities, and it requires criminal background checks for all potential employees who provide direct care to residents. Further, the facility is immune from suits on the termination of an employee or refusal to hire an applicant based on the results of the criminal background check. This law takes effect July 1, 2017.
The last law passed is known as the Elderly and Vulnerable Adult Person Protection Act and takes direct action against the perpetrators of this kind of elder abuse. Starting July 1, 2017, there is a new crime for the financial exploitation of individuals over age 70 (as opposed to age 65) or who are physically or mentally disabled and unable to fully manage their funds on their own. The crime has an elevated punishment from ordinary theft, and the court can freeze the funds of the accused in the amount that the court suspects may belong to the victim. In addition, there is a private right of action for the victim or the victim's family to recover the stolen funds. Finally, anyone convicted of this new crime will be added to the elder abuse offender registry.
Your legislators are not the only ones trying to stop elder abuse. If you want to know more about how to stop elder abuse, please visit the following websites or give us a call:
Tennessee Commission on Aging and Disability: https://www.tn.gov/aging/topic/elder-abuse
University of Tennessee: http://tnassetabuse.tennessee.edu/documents/elder%20abuse.pdf