Washington state takes new steps to stem epidemic of elder abuse

Apr 12, 2017, 3:23 PM
elder abuse...
A new law just passed this week by the Washington state legislature is aiming to curb crime against what some call the ever-growing ranks of the aging known as the "Silver Tsunami." (AP)

It’s a crime wave we hear little about — elder abuse.

Most notably, scammers taking advantage of people in their care, often stealing their life savings, other times physically abusing them.

But a new law just passed this week by the Washington state legislature is aiming to curb crime against what some call the ever-growing ranks of the aging known as the “Silver Tsunami.”

Adult Protective Services received more than 7,800 complaints of financial exploitation, and more than 5,400 neglect complaints in 2015 alone, according to Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson.

That’s why he championed the new law that creates a new category of crime for stealing from vulnerable adults, stiffening penalties and lengthening the statute of limitations from three to six years so prosecutors have more time to bring a case to court.

“Often you don’t even realize your parent has been scammed until well after that period of time has gone by. So our proposal allows for a six-year statute of limitations, creates a separate crime and allows us to prosecute these cases in a much more efficient manner,” Ferguson said.

That’s welcome news to elder advocates like Kirkland attorney Rick Gregorek, an estate and elder law specialist, and host of ‘Your Partner in Law’ on KIRO Radio Sundays at 8 a.m.

He sees the effects every day in his practice. Most troubling, the vast majority of scammers are family members.

“This isn’t the province of any particular demographic group. From people stealing grandma’s $800 social security check – her entire net worth, if you will – all the way up to people stealing millions of dollars. So no one is immune,” Gregorek said.

Gregorek says it’s most disturbing when a supposed loved one is doing the abusing, especially under the guise of taking care of them.

The abuse can include forcing vulnerable adults to change wills, powers of attorney and bank accounts in favor of exploiters.

The stories can be horrifying. Most of us remember the ugly battle over legendary DJ Kasey Kasem between his daughter and wife playing out in Kitsap County.

And then there was the Redmond woman who built cages around her parents to keep them from getting out of bed for years, all while draining their bank accounts.

“Her dad was blind, had severe dementia. Her mother had severe dementia. They were not in reality at all,” Gregorek recounted.

“They deserved to be in a protected environment, probably assisted living of some sort where they’d get the care they needed. They had the money but the daughter in charge of their money didn’t want to spend it because that would have reduced her inheritance. So two-by-fours and chicken wire and you build a cage around them. They were in that cage for six years.”

There are often warning signs such as increased isolation – a caregiver claiming the person doesn’t want to see friends or family. Or money starts draining from bank accounts.

So how can you protect yourself or your loved one? Gregorek says planning is the key. It starts with an elder law and estate planning attorney who can put a number of safeguards in place.

They can include alerts for bankers whenever there’s a significant financial or other change

And you can get a trustee or co-agent – someone outside the family who acts as your agent or consultant so one person doesn’t have total control of all your affairs.

“So if you have a professional fiduciary that’s maybe an attorney or a trust company, to get them to exploit that senior with a family member, the odds are that’s not going to happen,” Gregorek said.

But Gregorek says the biggest thing is to plan well ahead. And he says estate planning isn’t a one-time deal – you have to address changes such as in-fighting in the family.

But there’s hope the new law passed this week will help prevent at least some of the abuses going on.

“We can prosecute more cases and more successfully. And number two, once you do that you’re sending a message to individuals who may want to seek out and try to exploit vulnerable seniors that they will be prosecuted and they’ll face tougher sentences if convicted,” Ferguson said.

The measure passed overwhelmingly by both the House and Senate now goes to Governor Inslee for his signature.

Local News

(AP Photo/Matt Rourke, File)...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Pierce County deputies investigating death of 11-year-old

Pierce County Sheriff’s deputies said they were investigating the death of an 11-year-old girl in Midland, WA.
15 hours ago
Gee Ursula One Seattle...
KIRO Newsradio staff

Thousands of volunteers give back to the community for One Seattle Day

Thousands of volunteers gave back to the community on Saturday for One Seattle Day, including KIRO Newsradio's own Gee and Ursula Show.
15 hours ago
(Photo by Mat Hayward/Getty Images)...
Frank Sumrall

Mayor’s search for permanent Police Chief looms over Seattle amid depleting law enforcement numbers

Seattle Mayor Bruce Harrell recently consulted with a hiring firm as the decision to choose the next Chief of Police heats up.
3 days ago
Seattle Sun...
KIRO 7 News Staff

Sunny skies, warm temperatures forecast for western Washington this weekend

Sunny skies and warm temperatures are forecast for much of western Washington, with some areas expected to reach temps in the 70s.
3 days ago
Student STEM...
Nicole Jennings

From athletes to mathletes: STEM Signing Day shines light on WA scholars

STEM Signing Day gives stellar science, technology, engineering, and math scholars a chance to shine in the same way as high school athletes.
3 days ago
Prison 900x506...
MyNorthwest Staff

Governor Inslee cancels parole determination for triple murderer

Governor Inslee has cancelled an order that granted parole to Timothy Pauley, who had been incarcerated for three counts of first degree murder in 1981.
3 days ago

Sponsored Articles


Anacortes – A Must Visit Summertime Destination

While Anacortes is certainly on the way to the San Juan Islands (SJI), it is not just a destination to get to the ferry… Anacortes is a destination in and of itself!

Ready for your 2022 Alaskan Adventure with Celebrity Cruises?

Celebrity Cruises SPONSORED — A round-trip Alaska cruise from Seattle is an amazing treat for you and a loved one. Not only are you able to see and explore some of the most incredible and visually appealing natural sights on the planet, but you’re also able to relax and re-energize while aboard a luxury cruise […]

Compassion International Is Determined to ‘Fill’ a Unique Type of Football ‘Stadium’

Compassion International SPONSORED — During this fall’s football season—and as the pandemic continues to impact the entire globe—one organization has been urging caring individuals to help it “fill” a unique type of “stadium” in order to make a lasting difference in the lives of many. Compassion International’s distinctive Fill the Stadium (FtS, fillthestadium.com) initiative provides […]

What are the Strongest, Greenest, Best Windows?

Lake Washington Windows & Doors SPONSORED — Fiberglass windows are an excellent choice for window replacement due to their fundamental strength and durability. There is no other type of window that lasts as long as fiberglass; so why go with anything else? Fiberglass windows are 8x stronger than vinyl, lower maintenance than wood, more thermally […]

COVID Vaccine is a Game-Changer for Keeping our Kids Healthy

Snohomish Health District SPONSORED — Cheers to the parents and guardians who keep their kids safe and healthy. The dad who cooks a meal with something green in it, even though he’s tired and drive-thru burgers were tempting. The mom who calms down the little one who loudly and resolutely does NOT want to brush […]
Experience Anacortes

Coastal Christmas Celebration Week in Anacortes

With minimal travel time required and every activity under the sun, Anacortes is the perfect vacation spot for all ages.
Washington state takes new steps to stem epidemic of elder abuse