Wright’s plan to protect older Hoosiers passes out of committee

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INDIANAPOLIS – The House Family, Children, and Human Affairs Committee today passed legislation (House Bill 1600) authored by Rep. Melanie Wright (D-Yorktown) that would form a study committee focused on learning more about the issues Hoosier seniors face with guardians and protecting their assets.

“There is a demonstrated need for protecting the interests of seniors when it comes to who is making important decisions regarding their lives,” Wright said. “We need to take a closer look at the way guardians are assigned to care for seniors, particularly when it comes to making choices that involve finances. Officials say that financial exploitation of seniors has been on the rise in Indiana, doubling the number of cases reported over the past ten years.”

Pam Douglas—a constituent of Wright’s—delivered compelling testimony before the committee that recounted her mother’s personal experience with elderly abuse and financial exploitation.

Douglas’ sister was chosen to be her mother’s power of attorney. She quickly isolated their mother from the rest of the family and began withdrawing money out of their mother’s personal checking account. Although the power of attorney agreement stated that the guardian would not have access to their mother’s finances until she was determined to be incapacitated, the bank did not adhere to the agreement and allowed the guardian to withdraw money years before their mother was deemed incapacitated. Over the span of eight months, Douglas said $38,000 was taken out of their mother’s bank account by her sister.

During her last week in the hospital, Douglas’ mother suffered respiratory issues, but her power of attorney refused the administration of oxygen. It was consistently noted on her mother’s medical documents that she was allergic to morphine, yet the toxicology report revealed high levels of morphine in her system upon passing. After her mother passed, her death was never reported to the Putnam County coroner’s office.

Douglas’ family reached out to multiple agencies asking for action including the Indiana State Police and law enforcement in Putnam and Marion counties, but no action was taken.

Even though Douglas and other family members contacted Adult Protection Services (APS) 25 times, nothing was done. Douglas said APS officials admitted recognizing a pattern of financial exploitation, but never took further action.

The bill calls for an interim study committee to determine regulated qualifications for a family guardian, requires judges to follow those regulations, and mandates banks to follow the power of attorney agreement.

“This heartbreaking case clearly demonstrates the need for better guardianship regulations that judges can rule on,” Wright said.

According to Kristen S. LaEace, chief executive officer of the Indiana Association of Area Agencies on Aging, financial exploitation of senior citizens is most often committed by family members or a person close to them. Of the 11,000 cases APS investigated in the most recent reporting year, 2,500 were for financial exploitation.

House Bill 1600 is expected to be considered by the full House next week.

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