Elder Abuse Law: Is Momentum Building for New Legislation?

March 16, 2011
150x9937 Elder Abuse Law: Is Momentum Building for New Legislation?

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You may have read about 90-year-old actor Mickey Rooney’s recent testimony at the Senate Special Committee on Aging regarding how he personally suffered psychological abuse and financial exploitation due mainly to his advanced age.  Today, we will list some resources and links regarding the developing law regarding elder abuse.


According to the National Center on Elder Abuse (NCEA), there are no less than seven major types of mistreatment .and cruelty to the elderly:

  • Physical abuse – “the use of physical force that may result in bodily injury, physical pain, or impairment”.
  • Sexual abuse – “non-consensual sexual contact of any kind with an elderly person”.
  • Emotional or psychological abuse – “the infliction of anguish, pain, or distress through verbal or nonverbal acts”.
  • Neglect – “the refusal or failure to fulfill any part of a person’s obligations or duties to an elder”.
  • Abandonment – “the desertion of an elderly person by an individual who has assumed responsibility for providing care for an elder”.
  • Financial or material exploitation – “the illegal or improper use of an elder’s funds, property, or assets”.
  • Self-neglect – “the behavior of an elderly person that threatens his/her own health or safety”.


Few federal laws cover elder abuse.  The Older Americans Act was originally passed by Congress in 1965 established the National Aging Network, which includes the federal Administration on Aging, which awards funds to “56 State Units on Aging (SUAs), 629 Area Agencies on Aging, 244 Tribal organizations, and 2 Native Hawaiian organizations”.  The Act was most recently renewed and amended in 2006.

Perhaps with the help of Rooney’s testimony, the Elder Abuse Victims Act of 2011 (S. 462) was introduced in the Senate earlier this month, sponsored by Sen. Herbert Kohl (D-WI), and has been assigned to the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The bill would establish an “Office of Elder Justice” within the Department of Justice.  Other highlights of this bill include:

  • Emphasis on data collection from Federal, State and local law enforcement agencies and prosecutor offices
  • Establishment of an Elder Victims Grant Program, which would provide funds to States that establish multidisciplinary task forces on elder justice
  • Appropriations of $20 million per year for 2012 through 2014.

Meanwhile, the House introduced the Elder Abuse Prevention Act (H.R.577), sponsored by Rep. Ben Chandler (D-KY) on February 9, 2011.  This bill reaches farther than the Senate version in that it attempts to deny benefits to any state that allows parole for any person convicted of a sexual offense against the elderly.  It also requests that the U.S. Sentencing Commission review its sentencing guidelines applicable to sexual offenses committed against the elderly.  The bill is presently at the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, and Homeland Security.


According to a 2007 report by the ABA Commission on Law and Aging for the NCEA, there are three categories of state elder abuse law:

  • Adult Protective Services Laws – these generally establish systems for reporting and investigating elder abuse and for social services departments to help the victims.

o   In Virginia, Adult Services laws are listed at VA Code §§ 63.2-1600 through 63.2-1615.

o   In Maryland, Adult Protective Services law is listed at MD Code, Family Law §§ 14-101 through 14-309.

o   In Pennsylvania, the Older Adults Protective Services Act is at 35 PA Stat §§ 10225.101 through 10225.5102.

  • Institutional Abuse Laws – in some states, separate laws cover abuse or neglect against the elderly who live in long-term care or other facilities.

o   In Maryland, abuse in hospitals and related institutions is prohibited at MD Code, Health – General § 19-347.

o   Virginia and Pennsylvania do not have separate laws for institutional abuse.

  • Long Term Care Ombudsman Program (LTCOP) – All states have a LTCOP, which advocates for long term care facility residents who experience abuse, neglect, rights violations, or other problems.  Under the Older Americans Act, LTCOPs are required as a condition of receiving federal funds.

o    Your state’s ombudsman, agency and advocacy groups can be found on this map at The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center.

In addition, the ABA report explains that some states are passing new criminal laws that impose penalties for certain forms of elder abuse, and that state law involving guardianship/conservatorship, general or durable powers of attorney, and domestic violence or family violence prevention are relevant to the issue as well.

Stay tuned for developments!

 Elder Abuse Law: Is Momentum Building for New Legislation?
 Elder Abuse Law: Is Momentum Building for New Legislation?


Scott R. Zucker, Esq. is the owner of The Zucker Law Firm PLLC, located just outside the Capital Beltway in Annandale, within five miles of the City of Fairfax, the county seat of beautiful Fairfax County, Virginia. The firm focuses mainly on estate planning services for Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania clientele, and seeks to do so in an affordable and approachable way. People interested in learning more can contact Scott by phone or email.

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