Our Opinion: Legislation enhances protection for disabled, senior citizens

News Tribune editorial

Criminal laws are designed to protect our vulnerabilities.

Those vulnerabilities may be particularly acute for some people — including victims of natural disasters, children, disabled people and senior citizens.

As an enhanced protection for senior citizens and disabled Missourians, Gov. Jay Nixon this week signed legislation to curb exploitation by designated administrators.

An existing law prohibits financial exploitation of an elderly or disabled person by using deception, intimidation or force.

Expansion of the law was sought by proponents, including Missouri AARP, who contend such cases may be difficult to prosecute and prove when the offender has been granted guardianship or power of attorney.

The language of the new law prohibits the use of “undue influence” to exploit a “vulnerable state of mind, neediness, pain or agony.”

Proponents say the language applies to the improper or fraudulent use of power of attorney, guardianship, conservatorship or other fiduciary authority.

In signing the legislation, Gov. Jay Nixon said: “The changes I’m signing into law make clear that, regardless of who you are, or what power you have over a person, financial exploitation of older Missourians is wrong; it is illegal; and the state will use the full force of law to go after those who exploit vulnerable Missourians.”

As in other criminal matters, penalties for financial exploitation increase based on the amount of money involved.

Missouri’s disabled and elderly residents deserve protection, particularly from people entrusted to oversee their assets and finances.

This enhanced law has multiple value as deterrent, prosecutorial tool and punishment.

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