At the invitation of the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ Aging and Older Adult Services Committee, Penn State’s Dickinson School of Law Professor Katherine Pearson testified before the state legislature on Wednesday on protecting older Pennsylvanians from financial abuse and exploitation.
Pearson explained that the protection of older adults from exploitation requires a careful balance. “On the one hand, it is important to recognize their rights to individual autonomy; on the other hand, it is important to recognize the potential for vulnerability to influence, manipulation and outright fraud. … One of the most important steps is to address the potential for abuse as early as possible, before the money has disappeared completely. Prompt action can preserve not only elders’ savings, but also their dignity.”
Urging legislators to consider specific additional safeguards under the Older Adult Protective Services Act (OAPSA), Pearson recommended that to facilitate early reporting Pennsylvania take steps to create an environment where banks and other financial institutions are more likely to report suspicions of financial abuse. She also suggested that to facilitate early recovery, Pennsylvania adopt a private right of action under OAPSA, to permit a victim of exploitation to allege statutory grounds against a perpetrator in order recovery money or property.
In addition to presenting an opening statement at today’s hearing, Pearson was part of a panel responding to questions and comments from members of the House Committee. The panelists included representatives of Pennsylvania Bankers’ Association, community banks and credit unions, Temple University’s Institute of Protective Services, and Pennsylvania’s Area Agencies on Aging. The hearing was recorded for later airing by PCN.
A nationally recognized elder law expert, Pearson is frequently called upon to address legal issues that affect not only older adults in Pennsylvania but across the U.S. and in other countries. She has served as a chair of the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s Elder Law Section and is a current member of the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s Elder Law Task Force. Professor Pearson also is part of a multi-disciplinary research team on elder abuse advising the Commissioner of Older Persons in Northern Ireland, with a report coming out later this year. From 2009-10, she was a U.K.-U.S. Fulbright Scholar in Belfast, Northern Ireland, where she analyzed alternative approaches to elder advocacy while researching at Queen’s University Belfast. Pearson draws upon her 20-plus years of experience in her most recent book “The Law of Financial Abuse and Exploitation” (2011). She is also a co-editor of the Elder Law Prof Blog.