Parts 6 and 7 of this series addressed the roles of Adult Protective Services and the Long-Term Care Ombudsman Programs in investigating and redressing alleged elder financial abuse. There are several other resources available to handle the myriad legal issues raised by this crime.
The Older Americans Act provides funding for state legal services programs designed to address the needs of elders. In the context of elder financial abuse, such programs can provide no-cost access to the justice system by offering advocacy, advice and legal representation to persons 60 years of age or older, including access to an attorney. Due to limited budgetary resources, these legal services programs accept only a small percentage of the cases referred to them. The staff of these programs also routinely present community education programs addressing topics of interest to elders, including consumer fraud and financial exploitation. This type of community education often helps prevent elder financial abuse from occurring.
Some states also maintain a “Senior Legal Hotline,” which provides brief telephone assistance and advice on civil legal matters to, and on behalf of, persons 60 years of age and older. Attorneys are available to answer legal questions during regular business hours. Additional resources are sometimes available by collaborating with APS programs if the case involves elder abuse and neglect, adult guardianship or conservatorship matters, or elder financial exploitation.
Increasingly, private law firms are offering pro bono legal services to the victims of elder financial abuse. Holland and Knight, which represented Mickey Rooney in a well-publicized civil lawsuit for financial abuse against his step-son, Christopher Aber, has created “The Mickey Rooney Elder Abuse Pro Bono Project.” Private attorneys agree to pursue elder abuse cases that otherwise would not be pursued. The initiative is reportedly being replicated in law firms across the country.
Kristen M. Lewis, Esq., Member of the Special Needs Alliance and Fellow of the American College of Trust and Estate Counsel.