Protecting Aging and Disabled Adults Against Financial Exploitation
Your Legislative Update 2018 Introducing Asset Freeze
“My name is Jean. I am 75 years old and I am a victim of financial exploitation. For the past couple of years I have struggled emotionally because of personal problems. I felt overwhelmed and could not handle my financial affairs. My brother, Bob, offered to help and I gratefully accepted. I gave him complete access to my money. But instead of managing my finances, he stole my life savings, more than $300,000. I trusted my brother to look out for me, but he took advantage of that trust and all my funds and left me financially destitute.”
Unfortunately, stories like Jean’s are not uncommon and the best strategy to prevent and protect vulnerable adults is awareness, education, and stricter laws to punish and prevent exploitation. Currently, Florida has strong legislation for the pursuit of civil and criminal action against persons who financially exploit the elderly and the disabled. None of these actions, however, is effective in preventing the rapid draining of assets of a vulnerable elderly or disabled individual by a person in a position of trust. HB 1059 recently signed by the Governor will freeze assets and stop the exploitation. Vulnerable adults are especially susceptible to being victimized through financial exploitation; asset freeze is an immediate action to stop exploitation.
House Bill 1059
Sponsored by Representative Colleen Burton and Senator Kathleen Passidomo.
Shannon Miller of The Miller Elder Law Firm drafted this legislation for the Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar. Working with Ellen Cheek, an attorney who assists seniors across the state on the senior helpline, reviewed proposed legislation from West Virginia for temporary injunction as well as the framework already in place for injunctions to protect victims of domestic violence. Shannon drafted the temporary injunction legislation that was sent to legislators and sections of bar, AARP, and Sheriffs Association. This new groundbreaking law positions Florida as the first state in the nation to establish the asset freeze process to protect our vulnerable adults’ funds and strengthen our ability to stop exploitation.
The proposed legislation adds a new tool that has been missing. A quick, inexpensive mechanism for the temporary freezing of assets to prevent exploiters from emptying the bank accounts of our most vulnerable citizens. The legislation also protects the victim by providing “no contact” provisions if needed.
Overview of Asset Freeze
- Vulnerable adults – or persons on their behalf — can obtain a court order without an attorney to place a freeze on assets for 15 days or longer.
- A vulnerable adult need not be incapacitated to access this process.
- In order for the asset freeze to be ordered, there must be sufficient evidence provided to show that the vulnerable adult is in imminent danger of being exploited or has already been exploited.
- The injunction is temporary in nature and provides for a full hearing and due process for all parties within 15 days of entry of the initial temporary freeze, or the court can extend the freeze if necessary.
- The court retains authority to address the needs of the vulnerable adult, including the release of frozen funds if necessary for the vulnerable adult’s necessary expenses during the time the assets are frozen.
- The court may also give temporary exclusive use of the dwelling to the vulnerable adult, if this is safe for the vulnerable adult, and prohibit contact with the vulnerable adult.
Ms. Miller, founder of The Miller Elder Law Firm, has been influential in the drafting of several pieces of legislation to protect our most vulnerable adults. As the only Board Certified Elder Law attorney in the Eighth Judicial Circuit, she has the experience to get clients the outcomes that are best for their situation.