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Jan L. Warner & Jan Collins

Question: When Dad retired 20 years ago, he and Mom moved from the Northeast to the South. Because of the price differential in real estate, they were able to buy a small patio home there and still put more than $75,000 in the bank. Mom died a year ago and Dad, who is now 83, has lived alone since then. We invited him to come live with us, but he refused. He also refused to sign any power of attorney for me, saying he could take care of himself.

Since my sister lives in the Northeast, and I live in the Southwest, visits are relatively infrequent – about once a year. But we keep in touch by phone and e-mail several times a week. When we were not able to reach him for several days, we became concerned. Finally, I was able to reach a neighbor, who told me that when Dad had not left the house for weeks, they called the state protective services agency, which took him into custody.

I flew in immediately and found that Dad was in the hospital. He was dehydrated, emaciated, and had bedsores on his body. He had slipped mentally in just those few days since I had last talked to him. When I went to his house, the smell and filth were unbelievable. He was transferred from the hospital to a nursing home where he now lives. His mental state is worsening. My sister and I decided that he would come home with my wife and me, but I can’t seem to get through to anyone. I am flying back and forth at great expense to attend hearings. I thought I could handle this alone, but I was mistaken. What can my sister and I do?

Answer: “Adult Protective Services” is a group of services provided by state law and designed to help vulnerable elderly persons who are victims of abuse, neglect or exploitation. In these situations, state laws provide for emergency intervention, including taking the vulnerable adult into custody. Various agencies – including law enforcement, long-term care ombudsmen, and departments of social services -- are usually involved in the investigation, reporting, and prosecution of these types of cases.

State vulnerable adult and protective services laws target not only physical and psychological abuse, but also financial exploitation, failure to care for elderly persons and, in some instances, self-abuse. Although state laws may differ in methodology, they generally include both civil and criminal remedies designed to protect the elderly person and to slow the fast-growing problem of abuse, neglect and exploitation of the elderly.

Where, as here, your father was a victim of dehydration, malnutrition and bedsores and was either unable or unwilling to seek medical care on his own, adult protective services took custody of your father to provide him with the care he needed. Depending on where your father lives, these protective proceedings may take place in either the family court or probate court. In some states, there are conflicts between protective proceedings brought by the state and proceedings for guardianship or conservatorship.

When, as here, emergency proceedings are instituted, hearings must be held within a relatively short time period. We suggest that you immediately hire an attorney to represent your interests. A guardian-ad-litem and an attorney should be appointed for your father. Under these circumstances, it may be difficult to move your father from one state to another; your lawyer should advise you about this.

Your situation demonstrates why families who are separated by distance should consider the use of geriatric care managers who can visit and report on elderly parents and relatives regularly. This process requires that parents and children sit down as adults and discuss care and financial issues in a manner that will not offend the elderly person, but will assure protection.

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