Each state has its own elder abuse laws. States vary widely, however, when it comes to the efficacy of their anti-elder abuse legal protections. No matter what state they are in, victims of elder abuse should seek legal remedy. Elder abuse lawyers can help the elderly navigate each state’s civil and criminal statutes.
An incident of elder abuse does not always rise to the level of a criminal case. Even if states do not provide statutes addressing criminal elder abuse, their civil elder abuse statutes may provide a way for elders to recover financial losses following cases of elder financial exploitation and/or abuse. A complainant may be able to win a civil settlement to cover medical costs and funeral expenses in the case of wrongful death. Civil cases, however, do not come with prison sentences for the defendants.
Resources for the Elderly and the Older Americans Act
Each state has programs for the elderly administered by the Administration on Aging (AoA), which was established under The Older Americans Act (OAA). The OAA is a federal law enacted in 1965 to enhance community services for adults 60 and over. It also aims to protect the rights of elderly Americans through federal and state elder abuse prevention.
The Federal government supports state-run agencies that offer support to elderly people. Adult Protective Services, for instance, receives federal funding. Other offices, like the long-term care ombudsman, are federally mandated. The long-term care ombudsman advocates for the rights of long-term care residents.
Elder Abuse State Law Definitions
Each state has its own definition of “elderly person.” Some states define an elderly person as age 60 and up; others specify 65 years of age. Certain states, like California, impose harsher penalties for felony elder abuse of a person over 70.
State statutes may also have their own tailored definitions of terms like abuse.
- Kentucky civil elder abuse statutes define “abuse” as the infliction of injury, sexual abuse, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment that results in physical pain or injury, including mental injury.”
- In New Mexico, the civil elder abuse statutes describe abuse as follows: “1. Knowingly, intentionally, or negligently and without justifiable cause inflicting physical pain, injury, or mental anguish; 2. The intentional deprivation by a caretaker or other person of services necessary to maintain the mental and physical health of an adult; or 3. Sexual abuse, including criminal sexual contact, incest, and criminal sexual penetration.
It could make a significant difference in a civil case whether “caretaker deprivation of services” or “neglect” is included in the state’s definition of abuse.
Which States Have the Highest Rates of Elder Abuse?
A study by WalletHub found that California, Montana, Nevada, South Carolina, and Tennessee have the highest numbers of reports of elder abuse, gross neglect, and exploitation complaints, per resident aged 65+.
- California, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Utah have the weakest protections against elder abuse, according to the WalletHub study.
- Arizona, Florida, Montana, and South Carolina have some of the highest percentages of elderly residents, according to the Population Reference Bureau.
- California, New York, and Texas have high numbers of elder abuse reports due to the sheer size of their populations.
Elder Abuse Law by State
Every state has statutes designed to protect the elderly. For a complete list of civil and criminal statutes, visit the Department of Justice website.
Arizona Elder Abuse State Law
Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-3623: Causing a senior – also known as a “vulnerable adult,” to suffer an injury is a felony. It is also a felony to place a vulnerable adult in a situation where their person or health is endangered. This includes situations where a vulnerable adult is permitted to enter or remain in any structure in which volatile, toxic, or flammable chemicals are found, or equipment is possessed by any person for the purpose of manufacturing a dangerous drug.
It is also a felony to emotionally abuse a senior who is a patient or a nursing home resident. The statute states: “‘Emotional abuse’ means a pattern of ridiculing or demeaning a vulnerable adult, making derogatory remarks to a vulnerable adult, verbally harassing a vulnerable adult, or threatening to inflict physical or emotional harm on a vulnerable adult.”
Ariz. Rev. Stat. Ann. § 13-1802: If a person takes control of an elderly person’s property while acting in a position of trust and confidence and with the intent to deprive the vulnerable adult of the property, they are guilty of theft. Arizona makes an exception if the property was given as a gift in a pattern consistent with gift-giving before the adult became vulnerable. Theft of a property valued at $1,000 or more is a felony. Theft of property valued at less than $1,000 is a misdemeanor unless the property is a firearm or an animal taken for the purpose of animal fighting.
California Elder Abuse State Law
Cal. Penal Code § 13-368: In cases of physical abuse of an elder, wherein someone “willfully causes or permits the person or health of the elder…to be injured, or willfully causes or permits the elder or dependent to be placed in a situation where their health is endangered” is punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $6,000. Alternatively, California may sentence someone found guilty of elder abuse to up to four years in state prison.
If someone causes death or great bodily harm, they may serve lengthier terms in state prison. For instance, someone who causes the death of an elderly person may receive seven years in state prison if the elder is 70 years of age or older.
A person who places an elderly person in a situation that causes their health to be endangered is guilty of a misdemeanor.
California also proscribes fines and prison time for caretakers and non-caretakers who have been involved in cases of theft, embezzlement, forgery, or fraud. The fines and prison time increase when the amount at issue is over $950.
Florida Elder Abuse State Law
Fla. Stat. § 825.103 addresses obtaining an elderly person’s assets for the purpose of depriving the elderly person of the use, benefit, or possession of funds, assets, or property by people who stand in a position of trust or confidence with the elderly person as well as people with whom the elderly person has a business relationship. This type of elder financial exploitation is a felony. “Positions of trust or confidence” include close relatives and caregivers.
This statute also addresses the transfer of money or property valued in excess of $10,000 at the time of transfer by a person aged 65 or older to a non-relative whom the transferor knew for fewer than two years before the first transfer and for which the transferor did not receive the reasonably equivalent value in goods or services. According to the statute, this type of transaction creates a “permissive presumption” that the transfer was the result of exploitation.
The statute defines abuse of an elderly person as “intentional infliction of physical or psychological injury. This includes active encouragement of any person to commit an act that could reasonably be expected to result in physical or psychological injury to an elderly person.”
The Florida statute also addresses elder neglect, defining it as a caregiver’s failure or omission to provide the elderly person with the care necessary to maintain the elderly person’s physical and mental health.
If negligence leads to great bodily harm, Florida classifies elder neglect as a second-degree felony.
Without great bodily harm, Florida classifies elder neglect as a third-degree felony.
Florida also criminalizes a breach of fiduciary duty, wherein someone breaches their fiduciary duty by a guardian, trustee, or agent under a power of attorney which results in an unauthorized appropriation, sale, or transfer of property.
Montana Elder Abuse State Law
45-6-333, MCA (2020): In Montana, a person in a position of trust or someone who has a business relationship with an older person commits the offense of exploitation if they purposely use an elderly person’s funds, assets, or property with the intent to deprive the older person. The same goes for identity theft – using personal, identifying information to obtain credit, goods, services, or financial information.
A person found guilty of exploitation of an elderly person shall be fined an amount not to exceed $10,000 or be imprisoned in a state prison for a term not to exceed 10 years.
Nevada Elder Abuse State Law
Nev. Rev. Stat. § 200.5099 states that a person who is guilty of elder abuse will be charged with a gross misdemeanor for the first offense. For the second offense, they will be charged with a felony with a state prison sentence of not less than two years and a maximum term of not more than six years.
Caregivers who a) neglect the older person, causing the older person to suffer physical pain or mental suffering, or b) permit or allow the older person to suffer unjustifiable physical pain or mental suffering; or c) permit or allow the older person or vulnerable person to be placed in a situation where the older person may suffer physical pain or mental suffering as the result of abuse or neglect, is guilty of a gross misdemeanor unless a more severe penalty is prescribed by law.
Criminal exploitation of an older person for money may result in a misdemeanor or a felony charge, depending on the amount of money involved.
If the amount is less than $650, for example, the person may be charged with a gross misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in the county jail for not more than 364 days, by a fine of not more than $2,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.
However, if the amount at issue is $5,000 or more, the charge would be for a category B felony, which is punishable by a minimum term of two years in a state prison and a maximum fine of not more than $25,000, or by both fine and imprisonment.
Nevada also specifies charges for people who isolate or abandon an older person. The first offense is a gross misdemeanor, and any subsequent offense is a category B felony, punished by imprisonment in the state prison for a minimum term of not less than two years and a maximum term of not more than ten years. This charge may be further punished by a fine of not more than $5,000.
New Jersey Elder Abuse State Law
New Jersey does not have criminal elder abuse statutes; however, NJ Rev Stat § 2C:24-8 (2013) criminalizes the neglect or abandonment of an elderly person by a caregiver.
N.J.S.A. 52:27D-406 requires health care professionals, law enforcement officers, firefighters, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians to report when they have reasonable cause to believe a vulnerable adult is the subject of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.
New York Elder Abuse State Law
New York is one of the few states that does not have mandatory reporting laws. Only Adult Protective Services (APS) is required to report suspected elder abuse. It is therefore especially important for concerned New Yorkers to report elder abuse, as nurses, doctors, and nursing home staff may not do so, even though they are often in the best position to detect the warning signs.
N.Y. Penal Law § 260.32: Endangering the welfare of a vulnerable elderly person is a felony. A vulnerable elderly person means a person 60 years of age or older who is suffering from a disease or infirmity associated with advanced age and manifested by demonstrable physical, mental, or emotional dysfunction to the extent that the person is incapable of adequately providing for his or her own health or personal care.
“Endangering” means any of the following:
- Causing injury to an elderly person with intent, or
- Recklessly causing physical injury to an elderly person; or
- Causing physical injury to an elderly person by means of a deadly weapon or a dangerous weapon or dangerous instrument.
N.Y. Penal Law § 190.65 states that a person is guilty of a scheme to defraud in the first degree when he or she:
- Engages in a scheme constituting a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud ten or more persons or to obtain property from ten or more persons by false or fraudulent pretenses, and so obtains property from one or more such persons, or
- Engages in a scheme constituting a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud more than one person or to obtain property from more than one person by false or fraudulent pretenses, and so obtains property with a value in excess of $1,000, or
- Engages in a scheme constituting a systematic ongoing course of conduct with intent to defraud more than one person, more than one of whom is a vulnerable elderly person, to obtain property from more than one person, by false or fraudulent pretenses.
Pennsylvania Elder Abuse State Law
The Older Pennsylvanians Legal Assistance Program provides elders with free legal services for cases of elder abuse and long-term care problems.
Pennsylvania does not have criminal elder abuse statutes, but it does cover elder financial exploitation under its criminal financial exploitation statute.
18 Pa. Stat. § 3922.1(a) & (f) (2022): The Pennsylvania penal code defines financial exploitation as “The wrongful or unauthorized taking or attempt to take by withholding, appropriating, concealing, or using the money, assets of property of an older adult…by an individual who stands in a position of trust and confidence with and older adult.” This includes business transactions to obtain or attempt to obtain control through deception, intimidation, or undue influence over the older adult’s money, assets, or property to deprive the older adult person of ownership, benefit, or possession.
It also includes business transactions performed to convert or attempt to convert money, assets, or property of the older adult.
Offenses that involve amounts over $2,000 are considered felonies. Offenses that involve less than $2,000 are considered first-degree misdemeanors.
South Carolina Elder Abuse State Law
South Carolina Section 43-35-15 establishes the Vulnerable Adults Investigations Unit of the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division. The unit investigates reports of elder abuse and refers suspected cases of criminal conduct to law enforcement.
Like many states, South Carolina has mandatory reporting requirements for certain professions. Section 43-35-25 establishes a list of mandated reporters, including doctors, nurses, dentists, medical examiners, and any other mental health or allied health professional, as well as religious healers, teachers, psychologists, and social workers. Any person who fails to report abuse, neglect, or exploitation is guilty of a misdemeanor, punishable by fines of up to $2,500 and a prison sentence of not more than a year.
S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-1050(B): Abuse of a vulnerable adult is a felony punishable by a prison sentence of not more than five years.
S.C. Code Ann. § 16-3-1050(E): Willful neglect of an elderly person is also a felony and comes with a prison sentence of not more than five years. In addition, threatening or intimidating someone cooperating with an investigation into elder abuse must be fined not more than $5,000 or imprisoned for not more than three years.
Tennessee Elder Abuse State Law
Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-101 states that a person commits the crime of “nonsupport” when they fail to provide support to a spouse who, because of physical or mental disability, is unable to be self-supporting. “Support” includes but is not limited to financial assistance, food, shelter, clothing, and medical attention.
Non-support is a Class A misdemeanor. Flagrant nonsupport is a Class E felony.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-502 states that is an offense for any person to knowingly financially exploit an elderly adult. It is punished as theft but at one classification higher than it would be for an adult who is not elderly or vulnerable.
Under Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-507, it is an offense for a caregiver to knowingly neglect an elderly or vulnerable adult, so as to adversely affect the person’s health or welfare. Neglect of an elderly adult is a Class E felony.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 39-15-508 states that a caregiver commits the offense of aggravated neglect of an elderly adult who commits neglect and the act results in serious physical harm or results in serious bodily injury.
Tenn. Code Ann. § 71-6-117 adds that it is an offense for any person to knowingly, other than by accidental means, abuse, neglect, or exploit any adult within the meaning of the provisions of this part. A violation of this section of the penal code is a Class E felony.
Texas Elder Abuse State Law
Tex. Penal Code Ann. § 22.04: A person commits an offense if the person intentionally, knowingly, or recklessly causes the exploitation of an elderly individual. “Exploitation” refers to the improper use of an elderly individual’s resources for personal benefit, profit, or gain. Any offense under this section is a felony of the third degree.
This section of the code also states that a person commits an offense if he or she intentionally, knowingly, recklessly, or with criminal negligence, causes any of the following to befall an elderly person:
- Serious bodily injury
- Serious mental deficiency
- Bodily injury
If a person has assumed care of an elderly individual and knowingly causes any of the harm listed above, they may be charged with a first-degree felony. If they are found to have recklessly caused bodily injury or serious mental deficiency, they may be found guilty of a felony in the second degree. An offense committed by an employee of a nursing home whose employment involved providing care for the victim can be charged with a felony in the second degree.
Under the Texas penal code, a caregiver could offer a defense if they can show they notified the elderly individual they would no longer provide care.