Arizona Legislature Makes Small Changes for Elders

MAY 6, 1996 VOLUME 3, NUMBER 45

The 1996 Arizona Legislature has completed its work. While the session seemed to be primarily devoted to tax reduction and equity issues, and Governor Fife Symington exercised a record number of vetoes, little controversy arose over most issues of special concern to the elderly.

Recovery for Exploitation

House Bill 2457 expanded the existing provisions regarding exploitation of vulnerable adults. Before the change, “vulnerable” adults had specific protections against abuse, neglect and exploitation. The new law, however, makes it easier to pursue those who exploit the elderly and disabled.

The new law is aimed at exploiters who hold positions of trust with vulnerable adults. Included are those who hold powers of attorney, or act as conservator or trustee for the elderly or disabled. In addition, the law applies to anyone who provides care for the victim (such as adult care facility operators or nurses’ aides); even joint owners on bank accounts or other assets are included.

HB 2457 expands the reach of existing law against exploitation in another way. It defines a new legal concept of “intimidation or deception” as prohibited, and includes the terms in the concept of exploitation.

The new law makes exploiters liable for triple the damages caused to their victims. Finally, it also provides that such an exploiter is automatically disinherited from the victim’s estate.

While the acts described in HB 2457 were already illegal, the new law should provide powerful tools to be used against exploiters of the elderly and disabled. The new law was signed by Governor Symington on April 23, and can also be referred to as Chapter 274 of the 1996 Session Laws.

Emotional Abuse

House Bill 2053, signed by Governor Symington on May 2, makes it a crime to emotionally abuse a vulnerable adult. Emotional abuse joins physical and sexual abuse, imprisonment and neglect as the basis for criminal charges.

The law defines emotional abuse:

“A pattern of ridiculing or demeaning the vulnerable adult who is a patient or resident in any setting in which health care, healthrelated services or assistance with one or more of the activities of daily living is provided, making derogatory remarks to the vulnerable adult, verbally harassing the vulnerable adult or threatening to inflict physical or emotional harm on the vulnerable adult.”

While the addition of emotional abuse to the list of criminal acts is both welcome and important, it should not be confused with provisions for reporting abuse, neglect or exploitation. Those sections have not been changed by the new law.

Powers of Attorney

When the Legislature made substantial changes to the law regarding financial powers of attorney last year, it introduced new problems of interpretation. House Bill 2485 now rectifies those problems.

The new law makes it clear that powers of attorney executed before last year’s changes do not have to have a witness or be notarized. Those powers of attorney signed after the new law will need to be witnessed and notarized by separate individuals (some people had treated the notary as a witness under last year’s law). It also eliminates the confusion from last year about whether health care powers of attorney would also require a witness and a notary; witness requirements will now only affect financial powers of attorney. HB 2485, signed by the Governor on April 20, becomes Chapter 244 of the 1996 laws.

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