Summary of Mistreatment of a Dependent Adult and Elder Abuse Statute

Mistreatment of a Dependent Adult and Elder Abuse Statute
By Alexandra R. English, Kansas Legal Services

On July 1, 2014, a new elder abuse and mistreatment of dependent adult statute went into effect. This statute provides for much greater protections for seniors and other dependent adults along with much harsher penalties for those who commit both financial and physical crimes against seniors and dependent adults.

Mistreatment of Dependent Adults: One of the major improvements with this new statute is that it expands the definition of the crime for mistreatment of a dependent adult. The new law creates a much stiffer penalty for those who commit crimes against dependent adults. As defined by statute, a dependent adult is an individual 18 years of age or older who is unable to protect his or her own interest. This could include, but is not limited to, an adult cared for at a residential facility, in a private residence, in a medical care facility, or an individual with in intellectual or developmental disability receiving services through a community facility. Prior versions of the statute would have considered infliction of physical injury or “cruel punishment” against a dependent adult to be only a battery or a Level 6 person felony. However now, depending on the situation, it can be charged as a Level 5 person felony, which comes with much harsher penalties than a Level 6 person felony.

Elder Abuse: Unfortunately this new statute does not expand the same punishments for “physical injury, unreasonable confinement or unreasonable punishment” to all elder persons. An elder person is defined as an individual seventy years old or older. It is unknown exactly why the legislature chose seventy years of age. Other states use different ages, and the majority of states seems to use sixty years of age instead. Perhaps seventy is the new sixty.
It is important to note that if the victim is an elder person who is also a dependent adult, then that crime can be charged under the new statute. Otherwise, if an elder person is a victim of physical abuse, that would still be charged under the Kansas battery statute, which is K.S.A. 21-5413. It is my hope that one day physical violence against elder persons, whether they are a dependent adult or not, can be charged under this same statue with harsher penalties than the battery statue.

Financial Abuse of an Elder: The penalties for financial abuse are harsher as well. Previously, all violations of the Kansas Power of Attorney Act (K.S.A. 58-650 – K.S.A. 58-665) had to be dealt with by filing a civil lawsuit. For the first time in Kansas, this new statute criminalizes violations of the Kansas Power of Attorney Act. For example, if you have given your neighbor Power of Attorney over you, and that neighbor violates their fiduciary duty and steals money from your bank account under the guise of being your agent, that neighbor can now be charged criminally for a breach of his or her fiduciary duty to you, in addition to the theft.

The mistreatment of an elder portion of this statute reads:
(b) Mistreatment of an elder person is knowingly committing one or more of the following acts:
(1) Taking the personal property or financial resources of an elder person for the benefit of the defendant or another person by taking control, title, use or management of the personal property or financial resources of an elder person through:
(A) Undue influence, coercion, harassment, duress, deception, false representation, false pretense or without adequate consideration to such elder person;
(B) a violation of the Kansas power of attorney act, K.S.A. 58-650 et seq., and amendments thereto; or
(C) a violation of the Kansas uniform trust code, K.S.A. 58a-101 et seq., and amendments thereto; or
(2) omission or deprivation of treatment, goods or services that are necessary to maintain physical or mental health of such elder person.

Conclusion: Even though the new law isn’t perfect, it is a huge improvement over its predecessor law, and we should all be extremely grateful for its passage and enactment. It provides for much greater protections for our state’s seniors and other dependent adults. We can only hope that the harsher penalties that will be handed down will cause a chilling effect on physical and financial abuse and neglect of seniors and dependent adults. If you would like to read the statute in its entirety, you can find it in the Kansas Statues Annotated 21-5417.
This statute only applies to crimes committed after July 1, 2014. Any crimes committed prior to July 1, 2014, would be charged under different statutes under the older penalties. If you believe you are a victim of elder abuse as defined under this new statute, or if you know of someone who may be, do not hesitate to report it to your local police station, your local prosecutor’s office, and/or your local Adult Protective Services office.