How to Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse

Three Methods:Working with Adult Protective ServicesReporting Financial Abuse or FraudSuing the Abuser

Elderly men and women can be especially vulnerable to abuse, including financial abuse – particularly if they are suffering from Alzheimer's disease or dementia. These people often cannot defend themselves, and depend on close friends and family members to come to their aid if someone is abusing or taking advantage of them. If you have an elderly loved one who is suffering from abuse or neglect, you can take legal action by reporting the abuse or even suing the person responsible. Legal action can take time, however, so if your loved one is in immediate and serious danger, call 911 before you do anything else.[1][2]

Method 1
Working with Adult Protective Services

  1. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 1
    Talk to your loved one. Adult Protective Services (APS) can't do anything without the consent and cooperation of the elderly person being abused, so you have to make sure your loved one is on board.[3][4]
    • Keep in mind that getting your loved one's cooperation may be an uphill battle. He or she may defend or make excuses for the caregiver you believe is responsible for the abuse, or may fear retaliation if the abuse is reported.
    • Generally, the person will be more likely to cooperate if he or she trusts in you and understands that you have his or her best interests at heart. You can help nurture this trust by visiting the person on a regular basis, asking him or her detailed questions, and talking openly about your relationship and the person's role in your life.
    • If your loved one refuses help from APS, you may have to find another way to help him or her. If this happens, your first goal should be to get your loved one away from the person responsible for the abuse or neglect.
    • For example, if you're concerned that your elderly mother is being abused by your cousin, who has moved into her home to care for her, you may want to make the effort to visit her more often or even arrange to spend weekends with her in her home.
    • If the caregiver you suspect of abuse or neglect is an outsider hired by family members, you may want to talk to them about terminating that person's contract and hiring someone else.
  2. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 2
    Contact the nearest APS office. Each state has an agency that investigates and responds to complaints of elder abuse, but you must find an agency office in your area.[5][6]
    • The scope and power of APS agencies varies greatly among states, so call a local office or read on the agency's website to get a general idea of the services the agency offers and what they can do about elder abuse.
    • Contacting APS is appropriate if your loved one is not a resident of a nursing home or other facility. Although some APS agencies handle complaints of abuse in nursing homes, there are other procedures that must be completed first and other state regulatory agencies which may be more appropriate to respond.
    • The National Center on Elder Abuse has a listing of state reporting numbers and government agencies available on its website. Visit and click on your state on the map to find offices near you.
  3. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 3
    File your report. Each APS agency has a specific form you must fill out to report elder abuse. Forms may be available online, or you may have to go into the local office.[7][8]
    • Unlike many other forms of legal action, anyone can report elder abuse to the APS – you don't have to have any particular relationship to the victim or the authority to act on his or her behalf.
    • For example, if you live next door to an elderly woman whose nephew cares for her, and you are concerned that the nephew is abusing the woman, you can file a report with APS.
    • Although you don't necessarily need concrete evidence to file a report, the more factual details you can include, the more seriously the agent will take your report and the need to investigate the situation.
    • Along with information about the abuse, you also should include any relevant medical information about the elderly adult victim – particularly if he or she is apt to experience confusion or memory loss.
    • If you acquire additional information after you've filed your report, or if something else happens, you should contact the APS office to find out how you can update the case file.
  4. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 4
    Meet with the caseworker. Once the agency receives your report, it will be evaluated for urgency and assigned to a caseworker charged with investigating the situation.[9]
    • Many APS agencies are significantly over-worked and under-staffed, so don't be surprised if it takes a few weeks for a caseworker to be assigned. If you feel the situation is urgent, you may want to take other action such as filing a police report.
    • The caseworker will explain the agency's process to you and how he or she will investigate your allegations.
    • Typically you will receive a case plan that provides a general outline of the actions that will be taken and the time frames within which you can expect to hear from the caseworker after each phase of the investigation is complete.
    • The caseworker may ask you questions about the information contained in your report, and often will ask you for the names of other friends or family members close to the elderly person who may have information about the situation.
  5. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 5
    Cooperate with the investigation. As the caseworker investigates the situation, you may be contacted to provide further information or otherwise assist the caseworker.[10]
    • In some situations, you may be asked to accompany the caseworker when he or she visits your loved one. This is most likely to happen in cases where the elderly person has significant problems with confusion or memory loss.
    • The caseworker also may need your assistance getting in touch with other friends or family members of the elderly person.
    • At various points during the investigation, the caseworker may want to discuss options with you for removing your loved one from the abusive situation or getting other help.
  6. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 6
    Follow up on the caseworker's report. After the initial investigation, the agency may continue to monitor the situation as needed to ensure the abuse does not continue.[11][12]
    • Depending on the caseworker's findings, he or she may file a police report or recommend that you take further legal action such as filing a lawsuit.
    • Police officers also may conduct periodic "well being" checks if there is concern for your loved one's safety, particularly if there is suspicion that he or she is being abused by his or her caretaker.
    • Often caseworkers will monitor a situation and require regular reports until it is determined that the person is safe and in no danger of further abuse or neglect.
    • If the caseworker makes any recommendations for your loved one's care, review them carefully. Keep in mind that the caseworker may have access to resources you weren't aware of.
    • If the caseworker comes to conclusions that you don't agree with, call the APS office and ask to speak to his or her supervisor. Keep going up the chain of command until you find someone who is willing to listen to your concerns and take them seriously.

Method 2
Reporting Financial Abuse or Fraud

  1. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 7
    Evaluate the signs of possible financial abuse. The way your loved one is acting, coupled with transactional irregularities on your loved one's accounts, can indicate he or she is being financially abused.[13][14]
    • Be on the lookout for unusual bank activity, such as large withdrawals or transfers from other accounts, or duplicate debit or credit cards being ordered.
    • If someone has been designated to pay the person's bills or manage accounts, and you notice past due notices, letters, or phone calls about unpaid bills, it's a sign that, at the very least, your loved one's money is not being managed appropriately.
    • You also should be wary if your loved one suddenly has a new friend who is offering to run errands or take care of financial matters. Keep in mind that elderly people, particularly those with confusion or memory loss issues, can easily be tricked into going along with something they never would have agreed to otherwise.
    • You also should note behavioral signs, which may be signs of financial abuse or of emotional abuse or manipulation. If your loved one seems depressed, is secretive, or is not willing to talk freely, there may be a problem.
  2. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 8
    Talk to bank personnel. Most states require banks to report any signs or evidence they notice that points to elder financial abuse.[15][16]
    • Tell someone at the bank your suspicions and offer any evidence you have of financial abuse or exploitation. The bank will look into the matter and may lock down your loved one's accounts or call the police.
    • If you aren't closely related to the person being abused or exploited, you may have difficulty getting information out of bank personnel.
    • If you're hitting a wall, you may need to work with your loved one to draw up a power of attorney document so you can access his or her accounts.
  3. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 9
    Get your name added to accounts. If someone is taking your loved one's money, setting yourself up as a financial guardian and requiring your signature on transactions can put a stop to the abusive activity.[17][18]
    • Generally, you don't have to execute any formal legal documents such as a power of attorney to have your name added to someone's checking or savings account – you just need his or her permission.
    • If you are added as a signatory on accounts, you will receive statements and have the ability to monitor activity and take action against any suspicious or unauthorized transactions.
  4. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 10
    Contact local law enforcement. If you have evidence that someone is stealing from your loved one, you should report the activity to the police so they can launch a criminal investigation.[19][20][21][22]
    • Many law enforcement and APS agencies have cross-reporting programs that are designed to protect seniors and ensure that all reports of financial exploitation or abuse are thoroughly investigated.
    • If your loved one was targeted by a scam artist through the mail or over the phone, you may be better off filing a report with a state or federal government agency, but if the person is local, you should talk to someone in your local police department.
    • In financial exploitation cases, cover all your bases by filing a report with APS and with local law enforcement.
    • Law enforcement only investigates fraud or financial exploitation that is criminal in nature, while APS agencies investigate civil matters. However, the distinction between the two can be difficult to understand, and sometimes even professionals get it wrong.
  5. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 11
    File fraud complaints with the applicable agencies. If your loved one is the victim of a scam, you may be able to file a fraud report with one of several different government agencies, depending on the method of contact used.[23][24]
    • For example, if your loved one has been duped by a fraudulent telemarketer, you can file a complaint against the company with the FCC. Get your loved one's phone records so you can provide the phone number, or check bank statements for the name of the company that was paid.
    • If frequent telemarketers are a problem, you also can place your loved one's phone number on the do-not-call list.
    • Work with your loved one to get his or her free credit report each year and review it for any suspicious or fraudulent activity.
    •, a website operated by the federal Financial Fraud Enforcement Task Force, has a list of agencies to which you can report fraud available at If your loved one has been a victim of fraud, go through this list and file a report with the relevant agencies to launch an investigation.
    • You also can report financial fraud to your local law enforcement agency.

Method 3
Suing the Abuser

  1. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 12
    Gather information about the abuse. Before you can file a lawsuit, you generally must have concrete evidence that abuse is taking place.[25][26]
    • Keep in mind that elder abuse cases can be difficult to prove, particularly if your loved one is being cared for by the abuser in his or her home.
    • Keep a diary of signs and symptoms of the abuse. If your loved one is being physically abused, take pictures of the injuries you see.
    • You may want to take your loved one to visit a doctor or mental health professional to talk about the abuse.
  2. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 13
    Assess your standing to sue. Since you aren't the victim of the abuse, you must be able to show a court that you have the right to sue on your loved one's behalf.[27]
    • Unfortunately, most family members have a standing problem if they try to sue for the elder abuse of a loved one. Technically only the abused individual has the right to sue for that abuse, and he or she may be incapable of pursuing a lawsuit or interacting with an attorney.
    • In some situations, however, you may have the right to sue on your loved one's behalf. For example, if you hired the person you believe is abusing your loved one, your signature on the contract would give you standing to sue them for a violation of that contract.
    • Some states have special elder abuse laws that provide certain family members with standing to sue if the elder is unable to handle the litigation or discussions with the attorney.
    • For example, a California court held that a granddaughter had standing to sue her uncle for the elder abuse of her grandmother.[28]
  3. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 14
    Consider seeking power of attorney. If you lack the authority to do anything about the abuse, you may want to ask your loved one if he or she is willing to sign a document giving you power of attorney so you'll have the ability to sue on his or her behalf.[29][30]
    • Power of attorney is a document that gives you, as agent, the power to act on the principal's behalf. This means that, provided your loved one has the capacity to sign the document, he or she can give you the power to make financial, legal, and medical decisions for him or her.
    • If your loved one is mentally incapacitated, this option may not be open to you. Establishing power of attorney is something that must be done before the person is unable to handle financial affairs and medical decisions.
    • If the person you believe is abusing your loved one has been appointed an agent, you may want to talk to your loved one and other family members about amending the power of attorney document, either to appoint a co-agent or to remove that person entirely and appoint someone new.
  4. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 15
    Consult an attorney. An attorney with experience in elder law can help you assess the laws in your state and your options to take legal action against the person who is abusing your loved one.[31][32][33]
    • Many attorneys who take elder abuse cases work on contingency, meaning they cover the costs of the litigation and are paid through a percentage of your settlement or award. You don't have to worry about paying out of pocket for attorney's fees or court costs.
    • Look for an attorney who specializes in elder abuse and is familiar with the particular elder abuse laws in your state.
    • A good place to start your search for an attorney is on the website of your state or local bar association. Most have searchable directories of their members, and many have attorney referral services you can use that will match you with an attorney based on a description of your case.
    • Try to interview at least three attorneys, and find out what percentage of their practice is devoted to elder abuse, how many cases they've completed, and how many cases they've won.
    • If there are elder rights nonprofits in your area, you also might ask for attorney recommendations there.
  5. Image titled Take Legal Action Against Elder Abuse Step 16
    File your complaint. Once your attorney has enough information about the type of abuse that is taking place and the actions that have been taken against your loved one, he or she will file a complaint in court to initiate your lawsuit.[34][35]
    • Your attorney will work with you to calculate the damages owed and who should be sued for the abuse or exploitation of your loved one.
    • Keep in mind that if you are filing a personal injury lawsuit, the statute of limitations can be very short, giving you only one or two years after the incident takes place to file a lawsuit.

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Categories: Abuse