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Supreme Court’s Elder Law Task Force will tackle growing abuses to older Pennsylvanians

By Staff | Jun 11, 2013

HARRISBURG – The Supreme Court of Pennsylvania has formed an Elder Law Task Force, chaired by Justice Debra Todd, to study the growing problems involved in guardianship, abuse and neglect, and access to justice. The task force has been charged by Chief Justice of Pennsylvania Ronald D. Castille with recommending solutions that include court rules, legislation, education and best practices.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the “over-65 population” is now larger in terms of size and percentage of population than it has been in any previous census. Pennsylvania currently ranks fourth in the nation in percentage of people 65 and older. As of the 2010 census, almost 2 million Pennsylvanians – 15.4 percent of the state’s population – were over 65 and that number is projected to continue to increase substantially through the year 2020.

“The increased population of older Pennsylvanians has strained the resources of our courts and their ability to provide services to these individuals,” Chief Justice Castille said. “The needs of this growing population will continue for years to come, especially in regards to guardianships, elder abuse and access to justice. Now is the time to put in place solutions that will allow older Pennsylvanians to age without worries that they will be abused or their money will be taken.”

The task force is made up of 38 elder law experts including judges, lawyers and social workers. The task force will have three subcommittees, one devoted to appointment and qualifications of guardians and attorneys, a second on guardianship monitoring and data collection, and a third on elder abuse and powers of attorney. The work of the group will take approximately one year.

According to research funded by the National Institute of Justice, almost 11 percent of people ages 60 and older, or 5.7 million individuals, suffered from some form of abuse in 2009.

Financial exploitation costs older Americans $2.5 billion nationally, as estimated by the MetLife Mature Marked Institute and the National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse. Abuse of power of attorney or guardianship, fraudulent deed conveyances, home repair contractor fraud, credit card and bank account fraud and unauthorized use, pressured sales of unsuitable products, lottery scams, and illegal and exploitative telemarketing and collections practices are just examples of the many forms of elder financial exploitation.

Tragically, elder abuse is also deadly. According to a study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, victims of abuse, neglect and financial exploitation have three times the risk of dying prematurely.