Be our guest: Bills that protect the elderly mischaracterized
By Helen Marks Dicks
State Issues Advocacy Director
Unfortunately, there has been some misunderstanding caused by a recent opinion piece regarding two bills that have been crafted to protect individuals from financial exploitation. I’d like to set the record straight.
Last session, the Attorney General’s Task Force on Elder Abuse worked extensively on legislation to address the alarming trends of physical, emotional, and financial abuse that is taking place. The task force was made up of experts from state agencies, law enforcement, the court system, long-term care agencies, financial service groups, and citizen advocacy organizations like AARP.
They were tasked with studying the impact of elder abuse in the state and finding ways to improve outcomes for the elderly. Over the course of nearly two years, the task force crafted four pieces of legislation to protect seniors from abuse, each of which has attracted broad bi-partisan support.
Two of these bills SB 428 (AB 482) and SB 429 (AB481) deal specifically with working to end financial exploitation of seniors – they were the bills that I believe were mischaracterized by last week’s opinion piece.
I would first like to address the notion that because a “vulnerable adult” includes anyone over 60, then a financial institution will be able to block or freeze your account whenever they want. This is simply not accurate.
In order for a financial institution to temporarily refuse or delay a transaction, a number of steps must be taken. First, it must involve either an adult at risk, or an adult, aged 60 or more, and that financial exploitation of that adult has occurred or is being attempted.
There are also safeguards put in place to allow the account holder to submit a list of people that a financial service provider can contact when there is a reasonable cause to suspect that financial exploitation is taking place. This ensures that people you trust can be notified if financial abuse is occurring.
I would also like to discuss the objection that your Power of Attorney documents can be ignored. It should be noted that under current law, financial service providers already may refuse to honor a financial power of attorney.
This bill specifically authorizes, but does not require, a financial institution to refuse to accept a power of attorney if the person is a vulnerable adult and there is reasonable cause to suspect that the POA is engaged in exploitation of the vulnerable adult.
Elder abuse is becoming all too common in our society, and reports of elder abuse continue to grow. The Bureau of Aging & Disability Resources has tracked a 160% increase in reported elder abuse in Wisconsin since 2001. These numbers are likely to grow as Wisconsin’s senior population is set to increase by 72% in the coming decade.
AARP is committed to addressing this problem. As the State Issues Advocacy Director for AARP Wisconsin, as a senior, and as a person who had had a seat at the table as these bills have advanced, I can say that they have my complete support.