broad range of conduct (National Committee for the Prevention of Elder Abuse, 2001). There have been widespread complaints that financial abuse of the elderly is poorly defined, in part because it is hard to define, which makes it difficult to identify, investigate, and prosecute (Dessin, 2000; Langan and Means, 1996; Marshall et al., 2000; Roby and Sullivan, 2000; Sanchez, 1996; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996). The absence of a uniform definition perhaps explains why it is often not included or is poorly addressed in research on elder abuse in general (Langan and Means, 1996).

Because elder abuse, like other domestic ills, has generally been considered a state concern rather than a federal concern, the absence of federal law pertaining to elder abuse has placed on the states the responsibility to define this activity. Forty-eight states and the District of Columbia are reported to specifically mention financial abuse in their elder abuse statutes (Roby and Sullivan, 2000; Wilber and Reynolds, 1996).10 States’ definitions, however, vary widely on what constitutes financial abuse and who can be held accountable for it (Roby and Sullivan, 2000; Sanchez, 1996).

One complicating factor is variations in the class of individuals targeted for protection from financial abuse. Three general approaches are employed. In some states all individuals who have reached a given age are specifically protected, in other states protection is provided to all vulnerable or incapacitated adults regardless of age, and a third group of states uses a hybrid approach that protects vulnerable or incapacitated adults of any age and all adults over a certain age (Dessin, 2000; Roby and Sullivan, 2000). The last two approaches can make it difficult for researchers to distinguish reports of elder abuse from reports of adults in general (Coker and Little, 1997). The first approach, however, has been criticized for perpetuating the unfounded stereotype that all elderly persons are vulnerable and in need of protection (Roby and Sullivan, 2000). Also, some states require diminished decision-making capacity by the elder person before financial abuse is considered to occur, while other states do not impose such a requirement (Tueth, 2000). States even vary on the age when someone becomes “elderly” (Coker and Little, 1997; Paveza, 2001).

Other variations in state definitions are associated with who can be held accountable for financial abuse. Some states require dishonest tactics by perpetrators, such as the use of force, duress, misrepresentation, undue influence, or other illegal means, to take advantage of the elder person. Other states do not require a showing of such tactics if the perpetrator knew or should have known that the elder person lacked the cognitive


As of 1995, New York and Oregon were purported to be silent on financial abuse (Wilber and Reynolds, 1996).

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