Financial Exploitation and Adult Protection
The abuse of vulnerable adults is endemic in Arizona and across the nation.
Our attorneys offer valuable
experience in protecting elderly and incapacitated adults and in representing
persons who are committed to those adults’ best interests.
Arizona law (e.g., A.R.S. §
46-456) provides that a person in whom a vulnerable adult has placed trust and
confidence (such as a family member or an agent under a Power of Attorney) may
use the vulnerable adult’s assets only for the benefit of the vulnerable adult.
A person who violates that principle may be found liable for damages up to twice
the amount proved.
Protecting Vulnerable Adults
Acts of exploitation may be
committed by a wide variety of predators, including family members, caregivers,
attorneys, private fiduciaries, medical providers, clergy, bank employees,
telemarketers, friends, neighbors, acquaintances and confidants. Perpetrators
may have no legal connection to the victim, or they may have a formal
relationship pursuant to a trust, power of attorney, guardianship or
conservatorship. As diverse as the field of financial exploiters may be, they
generally exhibit one characteristic: They are people for whom the vulnerable
adult has trust, confidence, affection and respect and they abuse that trust.
Arizona law (A.R.S. § 46-451)
defines a “vulnerable adult” as one who is “unable to protect himself from
abuse, neglect or exploitation ... because of a physical or mental impairment”
or incapacity. A.R.S. § 46-456 further defines the act of exploitation as the
use of the vulnerable adult’s assets for the benefit of the exploiter, not for
the benefit of the vulnerable adult, the rightful owner.
If found in violation of the
law, the exploiter can be ordered to pay damages up to two times the amount of
those proved, can be made responsible for payment of the petitioner’s attorneys’
fees and costs, may experience forfeiture of any interest under instruments of
the vulnerable adult’s estate, as well as be subjected to other civil and
Strickland, Jerome Elwell and
Phillip Visnansky can assist vulnerable adults and their families by setting up
effective legal shields, including guardianships, conservatorships, orders of
protection and other safeguards, and by taking legal action against the
perpetrators. Gary Strickland is
the former Maricopa County Public Fiduciary, as well as a former Deputy County
Attorney and State of Arizona administrative law judge, and offers extensive
experience in adult exploitation matters and related civil litigation.
Defending Against False
In contrast to actual financial
exploitation, there are also occasions in which alleged victims or their friends
or relatives make unsubstantiated allegations of exploitation. Such allegations
may stem from a misunderstanding. Or, unfounded charges may be rooted in
familial jealousy or an effort to gain or maintain control of the vulnerable
adult’s affairs. False allegations can be just as deplorable and costly as
actual acts of exploitation.
Defending against false
allegations requires an attorney who is experienced in representing clients in
vulnerable adult financial exploitation cases, can perceive improper motivation,
understands the nuances of capacity law and Civil and Probate Court procedures,
has thorough working knowledge of A.R.S. Titles 14 and 46 and understands the
possible interplay between the two, and can involve credible and convincing
legal and financial experts as needed.
As attorneys who are committed to issues involving the
alleged exploitation of vulnerable adults, Gary
Strickland, Jerome Elwell and
Phillip Visnansky represent plaintiffs
when warranted and defend wrongfully accused persons against unfounded
allegations. They have successfully sought and recovered sizable assets for the
estates of exploited individuals and defended in a number of cases where
unsubstantiated claims have been made.