Staying Safe and Independent

Elder Abuse Information

Older adults may be more likely to be abused due to physical or mental challenges. Elder abuse may occur in the home, nursing home, or other places. Abuse most often occurs at the hands of family members or someone the person trusts. The older adults most at risk are women and persons with dementia. In Alabama, elder abuse is a crime, and people who abuse older adults can be charged with misdemeanor or felony.

Types of Elder Abuse

Emotional abuse – Threats, humiliation, intimidation, or verbal abuse

Neglect – A failure to obtain or provide care

Physical abuse – Causing bodily injury, pain, or harm

Sexual abuse – Sexual contact with an older adult who does not agree to the contact

Financial abuse – Illegally or improperly using an older adult’s money or belongings

What are signs of elder abuse?

  • Becomes isolated (family members or other caregivers may be shut out)

  • Stops taking part in things they usually enjoy

  • Needs bathing, has dirty clothes, loses weight for no reason, has bed sores

  • Becomes withdrawn or acts agitated or violent

  • Displays signs of trauma (like rocking back and forth)

  • Has unexplained bruises, burns, cuts, or scars

  • Lacks medical aids (glasses, walker, dentures, hearing aid, medications)

  • Has a dangerous, unsafe, or dirty living space

  • Has money, but the money is not being used for the older adult’s care or bills

How can I report elder abuse?

Call the ELDER ABUSE HOTLINE: 1-800-458-7214
If there is immediate danger to someone’s mental or physical safety, call 911.

If you are the victim and are afraid to make the call, try to reach out to someone you trust (friend, neighbor, relative, doctor, nurse) and ask them to report the abuse.

Abuse can also be reported to your local Department of Human Resources (DHR) office. Every DHR office has Adult Protective Services workers.

YOU HAVE THE POWER! You can help protect yourself or someone else by reporting elder abuse. You can report elder abuse without giving your name. If you are calling for yourself, you must give your name to get help.

Can the court help protect someone from elder abuse?


Someone can file papers with the court asking that the person be moved to a safe place right away. A safe place could be with a relative (not the abuser), a nursing home, foster care, or another place. The court may order that the abusive person stay away from the victim, among other things.

  • The paperwork filed with the court asking it to protect someone from elder abuse is called a Petition for Elder Abuse Protection.

  • It is best if DHR or a lawyer files the papers to start an elder abuse case; however, the person who is being abused or any interested person can file. (An interested person could be an adult relative, friend, or someone with a company or agency concerned about the person’s welfare and safety.)

  • Court clerks have a Petition for Elder Abuse Protection form or go to: Form C-2

  • If the abuser took or misused the victim’s money or property, the court can order the abuser to repay the victim. This is called financial exploitation. For a married couple, the victim can also file for divorce and ask the court to issue a temporary protection order while waiting for a final ruling on the divorce. The victim should talk to an attorney who does domestic relations (divorce or family law) work.

Guardianships & Conservatorships

Being independent and in control of our life is as important to older adults as it is for everyone. Just because we may have more physical challenges or less energy than in the past does not mean that we can’t decide where we live, our health care, and our money! Sometimes family members or others think that older adults cannot make good decisions, take care of themselves, or handle their money. They may file papers asking the court for guardianship or conservatorship.

What is a guardianship?

A guardianship is created when a probate court appoints someone (called a guardian) to make decisions for an incapacitated individual who needs someone else to care for them and supervise their life.

  • A guardian should be appointed only when necessary to provide care for the incapacitated person. (The court usually gives a guardian a lot of power, and the person under the guardianship loses a lot of power -the right to make decisions over their care!)

  • A guardian should only be appointed when the person needing care is truly incapacitated. (This means the person cannot make decisions on their own.) A person could be incapacitated due to mental illness, mental deficiency (like dementia/Alzheimer’s), physical illness or disability, physical or mental infirmities accompanying advanced age, chronic use of drugs, or chronic intoxication.

  • Guardianships can last for the rest of someone’s life, and only the court can end them. A court can order guardianship to end when the person under the care of a guardian dies or is no longer incapacitated or the guardian dies or quits. (If the guardian dies or quits, the court will appoint another guardian)

Is a guardianship or conservatorship needed?

Just because someone asks the court to order a guardianship or conservatorship doesn’t mean it is the best thing to do.

Always ask:

Is the person truly incapacitated? If they are not, a guardianship or conservatorship is not the answer.

Is guardianship (or conservatorship) necessary to protect the person or their money? If not, a guardianship or conservatorship is not the answer.

Example: Pat is 80 and lives alone in her home. Pat is on a tight budget, but she always pays her bills on time. She loves to quilt and buys fabric when she can. A year ago, Pat lost her balance, fell, and broke her hip. The hip healed but has slowed her down. She takes blood pressure medicine and a few other pills, but overall, she is pretty healthy. Pat’s daughter thinks her mom should not spend money on extra things (like quilt fabric) and worries about another fall. She wants Pat to move to a nursing home so she would not worry about her so much. Pat’s daughter also thinks she needs to become a guardian and conservator over her mom to manage her money and keep her safe. Pat loves and trusts her daughter, but she thinks she can handle things herself right now and wants to stay in her home. What do you think?

Answer: We don’t know all the facts, but it looks like Pat can still make decisions on her own, so she is not incapacitated. The fact that Pat pays her bills on time is a good sign that she can take care of her money. Even though she had a fall, she doesn’t need help with personal or medical care, and she seems safe in her home. Pat does NOT need a guardian or conservator as she is not incapacitated and does not need help or protection from the court.

What options are there other than having a guardianship or conservatorship?

Suppose the person is not incapacitated and doesn’t need help with their decisions now but wants someone to make health care decisions for them later. In that case, a durable power of attorney for health care and an advance directive for healthcare (a living will) is a better option.

  • If the person is not incapacitated and doesn’t need help managing money now but thinks they may need help later, getting a financial power of attorney document is a better option.

  • Could getting a Social Security representative payee or VA fiduciary for the person be a better option? This is where the government agency gives a trusted person the power to manage a person’s benefits.

  • Could setting up direct deposits and/or automatic payments help?

  • Could someone be hired to do house cleaning, shopping, personal care, or other services to help the older adult?

  • Would a fall monitor necklace help?  

  • How can the powers of a guardianship or conservatorship be limited?

If a guardianship or conservatorship must be created, we should limit their powers as much as we can. The protected person should keep as many freedoms and rights as possible. Even though a person may need some help or protection, it doesn’t always mean they need someone to make decisions over every part of their life.

Ask, would a temporary guardianship or conservatorship be better? (Example: When help is needed only for a limited amount of time) If there is only one issue, or just a few, at hand, would a limited guardianship work? This is a guardianship with only certain named powers, not over everything for the person. (Examples: It might only give the guardian power to consent to or refuse a particular medical treatment or authorize the guardian to move the person to another place.)

If someone is trying to get (or has) a guardianship or conservatorship on you, and you don’t want it, contact Legal Services Alabama to see if we can help: 1-866-456-3959

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