What is Elder Abuse in Washington State and Penalties

elder abuse washington state
Facing charges of elder abuse? Learn how elder abuse in Washington State is defined, what the penalties are if convicted, and legal options for defense.


In 2018, the Washington Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) recorded more than 60,000 elder abuse cases. From financial exploitation to neglect, many actions can fall into this category. But not every allegation of elder abuse in Washington State is a credible one.

If you’re facing charges of elder abuse, it’s important to understand how Washington State law defines elder abuse and punishes those convicted of it. Read on to learn more.

Elder Abuse Defined

The Revised Code of Washington, Section 74.34.020 defines elder abuse as neglect, exploitation, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. Abuse can occur through willful action or inaction that inflicts an injury or acts as intimidation or punishment against a vulnerable adult.

Is Financial Exploitation a Form of Elder Abuse?

Washington State law does define financial abuse as one form of elder abuse.

Washington state elder abuse laws Rev. Code Wash. (ARCW) § 74.34.020 (2016) defines financial exploitation as “the illegal or improper use, control over, or withholding of the property, resources, or trust funds of the vulnerable adult.” The property, resources, and funds can only be used for the profit or advantage of the vulnerable adult.

Protections for the Elderly in Washington State

The Washington State Vulnerable Adult Protection Act is designed to protect those who:

  • Are age 60 or older deemed functionally, physically, or mentally unable to care for themselves
  • Have a developmental disability
  • Have a court-appointed guardian
  • Receive services from home health agencies, home care agencies, or a hospice provider
  • Receive services from a care provider or personal aid

Abuse can take many forms, but all allegations must be substantiated with evidence in a court of law. Physical abuse is inflicting pain or injury on an older or vulnerable adult. Sexual abuse refers to sexual activity without the older adult’s informed consent. Emotional abuse includes verbal assaults, harassment, threats of abuse, and intimidation.

Dealing with False Accusations of Elder Abuse in Washington State

False allegations of elder abuse in Washington do happen. Family dynamics are complex, and the primary caregiver can be an easy target for allegations of abuse. Abuse allegations can also arise from confusion around the older adult’s physical or mental health or their financial situation.

Additionally, many professionals are mandatory reporters, meaning they must report suspected abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults. Mandatory reporters in Washington State include:

  • Law enforcement
  • DSHS employees
  • Social workers
  • Operators of care facilities
  • Employees of welfare, mental health, home care, and social service agencies
  • Physicians and other health care providers
  • Coroners and medical examiners

Because these individuals must report suspected elder abuse and could face punishments for failing to do so, they may err on the side of caution and report instances that are not actual cases of elder abuse.

Whether the accusation of elder abuse was leveled against you by a mandatory reporter or by another party, it’s important to realize how serious these charges are. Elder abuse in Washington State is considered a serious crime. Keep reading for details on the penalties involved.

Penalties for Elder Abuse

Numerous criminal statutes address the abuse, neglect, and exploitation of vulnerable adults.

The Revised Code of Washington, Section 9A. 42. 020 defines criminal mistreatment as “the criminal negligence causing great bodily harm by withholding any of the basic necessities of life.”

Criminal mistreatment charges can range from first to fourth degree, with first degree being the most serious. First-degree criminal mistreatment is a Class B felony that carries up to ten years in prison and a fine of up to $20,000.

If the investigation supports findings of abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, or abandonment, you may be barred from caring or volunteering with both children or vulnerable adults for the rest of your life.

There are also penalties in place for those who knowingly level false accusations of elder abuse in Washington State. According to the Revised Code of Washington, Section 74.34.053, anyone who“ intentionally, maliciously, or in bad faith makes a false report of alleged abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, or neglect of a vulnerable adult is guilty of a misdemeanor.”

Charges of abuse or neglect of a vulnerable adult can result in legal, financial, and emotional consequences that can last a lifetime, so enlisting a reputable criminal defense attorney to work on your behalf is crucial. Your legal team can build a solid defense to get charges dropped or your sentence reduced.

Defenses for Elder Abuse Charges

Caring for an aging or infirm loved one can be challenging, and family dynamics can result in charges of neglect or abuse against caregivers. Adult Protective Services (APS) is the state agency responsible for investigating allegations of abuse or neglect of vulnerable adults.

Frailty, dementia, and medication interactions can all contribute to the false appearance of abuse or neglect. Dementia, in particular, can lead an older loved one to make false allegations, which can further confuse the case.

There are defenses for charges of elder abuse. Examples of defenses include:

  • Self-defense. If any older adult became physically aggressive toward you, then you may have no option but to act in self-defense. The elder individual may have had medical records that outline a history of violent behavior.
  • Lack of intent. Accusations of criminal negligence must come with willful intent, and the harm must have arisen while said person was in your care.

The defense your attorney builds will depend on your unique situation and the evidence at hand. The sooner you bring a criminal defense attorney to your team, the better your chances are of getting the outcome you desire.

Build A Strong Defense Against Elder Abuse Charges

If you are under investigation for elder abuse in Washington, the experienced legal team at Will & Will is here to help. We specialize in criminal defense law and keep our caseload small so that you get the personalized attention you deserve.

The accusations are serious. But you do not have to fight them alone. Contact Will and Will online or call 206-209-5585 today for a confidential consultation.

How can we help?

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