Elder Abuse

By Vanessa DeDominicis

Unfortunately, elder abuse occurs every day in BC. As many as one in two seniors in BC is abused. It is difficult to know when adults are being abused or neglected and often even harder to know exactly if or when to step in. Elder abuse can take many forms, both financial and non-financial. We often assume that adults can take care of themselves, but this may not always be true.

The Adult Guardianship Act defines abuse as “the deliberate mistreatment that causes physical, mental or emotional harm or damage to or loss in respect of the adult’s financial affairs.” This includes intimidation, humiliation, physical assault, sexual assault, overmedication, withholding needed medication, censoring mail, invasion or denial of privacy, and denial of access to visitors. Neglect is said to include “any failure to provide necessary care, assistance, guidance or attention if that failure causes, or is reasonably likely to cause, within a short period of time, serious physical, mental or emotional harm, or substantial damage or loss in respect of the adult’s financial affairs.” Self-neglect includes “any failure of an adult to take care of him/herself that causes, or is reasonably likely to cause, within a short period of time, serious physical or mental harm or substantial damage or loss in respect of financial affairs.”

The Adult Guardianship Act attempts to deal with two competing interests – the obligation to protect vulnerable adults who are being abused and the right of a capable adult to make his or her own decisions. Any intervention by agencies, the courts or the Public Guardian and Trustee are all governed by the presumption of capability.

The Public Guardian and Trustee’s authority to investigate reports of financial abuse, is found in the Public Guardian and Trustee Act. The Public Guardian and Trustee and can provide financial management services for adults incapable of managing their own affairs. They can also deal with issues relating to representatives acting under a representation agreement and an attorney acting under a power of attorney.

Where can you find more information on seniors’ rights and elder law?

  • The BC Seniors section of the Ministry of Healthy Living and Sport website has links to programs and services and other online resources. It also has the Senior’s Guide. Visit www.hls.gov.bc.ca or phone 1.800.465.4911. Also, check www.seniorsbc.ca.
  • The Service Canada website, at www.servicecanada.gc.ca, has information on financial help for seniors. Click on “Income Assistance” and then on “For Seniors.” Or phone Service Canada at 1.800.622.6232.
  • Contact local health authorities to report abuse or neglect of an adult. Call the Health Information Line at 1.800.465.4911 (toll free) and ask for your local health unit. 
  • Contact the BC Centre for Elder Advocacy & Support. Call 604.437.1940 in Vancouver or toll-free 1.866.437.1940 elsewhere in BC. The website is www.bcceas.ca
  • See the publications on the website of the Canadian Centre for Elder Law (part of the BC Law Institute) at www.bcli.org/ccel. Or call the Centre at 604.822.0633 in Vancouver.
  • Visit the Public Guardian and Trustee of BC website at www.trustee.bc.ca. It has many publications on adult guardianship, elder abuse, representation agreements and other topics. Or call 604.660.4444 in Vancouver or 1.800.663.7867 elsewhere in BC and ask for the Public Guardian and Trustee.

This is provided as information ONLY; it should not be construed as legal advice. For more information on estate planning and to discuss your specific circumstances, please contact Vanessa DeDominicis on 250-869-1140 or dedominicis@pushormitchell.com. Vanessa practices in the area of Wills and Estates at Pushor Mitchell LLP in Kelowna and would be more than happy to assist you.