Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie and Chair of the Aging Committee Donna Lupardo today announced the Assembly has passed a series of bills aimed at protecting the aging community from abuse and exploitation. "The Assembly Majority is committed to ensuring that as New Yorkers age, there are safeguards in place to protect them from financial exploitation and other forms of abuse," said Heastie. "This legislative package establishes protective measures that allow our elder community to age with dignity and peace of mind."
"Earlier this year, when I was appointed Chair of the Assembly Committee on Aging, the Legislature held a hearing on elder abuse," said Lupardo. "I've worked with my colleagues throughout the legislative session to address this very serious issue. This package puts in place important new protections and safeguards for the identification of elder abuse. I am committed to continuing this effort, expanding on the work we have advanced today."
One piece of legislation included in today's package would revise the statutory short form and other powers of attorney for purposes of financial and estate planning (A.8120-B, Weinstein). In doing so, this bill makes a number of helpful changes in the law by simplifying the current power of attorney form, which is too complex and prone to improper execution.
"An ongoing problem for seniors is having a valid power of attorney rejected by a third party. The refusal to accept a valid power of attorney can have dire financial consequences. This legislation provides safe-harbor provisions for those who, in good faith, accept an acknowledged power of attorney and also allows for sanctions against those who unreasonably refuse to accept a valid power of attorney. This legislation will protect and empower our seniors," said Assemblymember Helene E. Weinstein, chair of the Judiciary Committee.
Elder abuse has emerged nationally as one of the most underreported crimes. Often times, elderly individuals who are experiencing abuse from loved ones, friends, or neighbors refuse help out of fear, embarrassment or the desire to protect the abuser. The legislative package includes a bill that would require the Director of the State Office for the Aging, in conjunction with the Commissioner of Health and the Commissioner of the Office for Children and Family Services, to develop guidelines to assist healthcare providers and others working in healthcare settings to identify suspected self-neglect, abuse and maltreatment of individuals 60 and older (A.8258-A, Lupardo).
The Assembly passed an additional protective measure for seniors last week that would create a hotline for reporting various forms of abuse that may jeopardize the health and welfare of older adults (A.8160, Lupardo). The statewide, toll-free hotline would receive calls 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
Two other measures passed would help prevent and identify financial exploitation of seniors. One such bill would require that when a person applies for a joint account at a banking institution that they be informed of the alternative option of opening a convenience account if the bank offers convenience accounts (A.8217, Lupardo). Many seniors open joint banking accounts when seeking assistance with paying bills or budgeting for daily living expenses. However, joint accounts create a legal relationship between co-owners that includes equal right to access funds in the account as well as the right of survivorship when one of the account holders dies. In contrast, convenience accounts allow the depositor to retain ownership rights, and establishes a fiduciary relationship that binds the other person named on the account to act in the best interest of the depositor.
A second measure would encourage voluntary reporting of suspected financial exploitation. Under the bill, the Superintendent of the Department of Financial Services would be required to develop guidelines for reporting suspected financial exploitation in consultation with the State Office for the Aging, New York State Attorney General, representatives of the financial services industry, law enforcement, senior groups, disability groups and district attorneys (A.6395, Lupardo).
In addition to developing guidelines, the Superintendent and the groups that develop the guidelines would also be required to develop training materials for banks to train their staff and brochures for bank patrons regarding the signs of elder abuse. The bill would provide liability protection to those who report suspected financial exploitation if the report was made following established guidelines.