Elder Abuse Laws by State

There are some federal laws that are related to elder abuse. However, much of this area of law is determined at the state level. This means, elder abuse laws can vary heavily in different parts of the country. These laws can vary from who counts as an elder to the definition of abuse. States may also prosecute and punish elder abuse cases in different ways.

Christian Simmons, writer and researcher for RetireGuide
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APA Simmons, C. (2022, July 20). Elder Abuse Laws by State. RetireGuide.com. Retrieved August 14, 2022, from https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/states/

MLA Simmons, Christian. "Elder Abuse Laws by State." RetireGuide.com, 20 Jul 2022, https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/states/.

Chicago Simmons, Christian. "Elder Abuse Laws by State." RetireGuide.com. Last modified July 20, 2022. https://www.retireguide.com/retirement-planning/elder-law/states/.

Are Elder Abuse Laws Determined Federally or by State?

Much of the abuse area of elder law is determined at the state level, with each state choosing how to handle it in its own way.

There are some federal laws that can be applied to the area of elder abuse, but it leaves most of the interpretation up to the state level. According to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, there are no federal criminal statutes that specifically criminalize elder abuse.

Instead, there are other federal laws that make many of the areas that would count as elder abuse a federal crime. For example, elder abuse could be prosecuted federally if it involved a federal crime, like wire fraud.

But these laws don’t specifically reference the age of the victim or them being elderly as playing a role in the crime or changing the type of crime that occurred.
This is the part that is left to be determined at the state level. Fortunately, many states have created laws that specifically relate to the abuse of an elder.

How Do Definitions of Abuse and Neglect Vary by State?

Definitions of abuse and neglect can vary heavily by state, both in relation to elder law and other types of law as well.

One way that definitions may vary is by the type of abuse or neglect, with many state laws offering their own explanations to different types of abuse. This can range from financial abuse to emotional or sexual abuse.

Not all states may define the different types of abuse in the same way, which can lead to significant differences in elder abuse laws state to state.

Neglect is an additional area that may lead to variation in state laws for a few different reasons. One reason is not all states may consider neglect a type of abuse. It may not be included in a state’s definition of abuse and, therefore, may not be considered a criminal form of elder abuse.

What counts as neglect is another reason for the variation. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, only 17 states include abandonment in their definition of abuse or neglect.

How Do Elder Abuse Laws Differ by State?

Elder abuse laws can vary from state-to-state in a few different ways. One of the simplest variations may be who counts as an elder in specific states.

For example, some states may consider anyone in the retirement stage —65 or older — to be an elder, therefore, someone who is protected by the elder abuse law. For other states, the definition of elder may be as low as 60 years old.

So, depending on the age of the victim, elder abuse laws could apply to a situation in one state but not be applicable in the exact same situation in another state.

There also can be differences in state elder care regulations as well, which can apply to nursing homes and other similar operations.

How elder abuse is reported and punished can also vary state-to-state.

Variations in Elder Care Regulations

Depending on the state, elder care regulations can apply to a few different areas. Beyond the scope of elder abuse, people and businesses responsible for the care of seniors must follow certain regulations that may serve as laws.

Since these regulations can be determined at the state level, they can differ in some ways, including what regulations a facility must adhere to or specific standards of care that must be met. There are also federal laws and regulations, especially around nursing homes, that must be followed by all states as well.

In addition to the base federal laws, states may include their own regulations on in-state nursing homes and other facilities that care for elders.

Variations in Reporting Abuse and Filing Lawsuits

Virtually every state should have some method in place to ensure that abuse — both elder-specific or otherwise — can be easily reported.

According to the National Center on Elder Abuse, every single state except New York requires, by law, that statutorily specified professions report elder abuse if it is suspected.

What counts as a specified profession can vary by state, but it can include everything from health care and social workers to financial institutions.

Filing lawsuits will also vary heavily by state due to wide-ranging regulations. Some states have different specifications on the types of abuse that can qualify for a lawsuit.

Variations in Abuse Penalties

The differences in the actual penalties for elder abuse can vary by state for a few different reasons. First off, it will depend on how each state defines elder abuse and it the penalties differ from that of other types of abuse.

Beyond whether it qualifies as elder abuse or not, different states have placed different penalties within their state laws. Some states have harsher penalties than others, especially depending on the type of abuse and how it is classified.

Remember that there are several types of abuse, and each state may punish each type with different levels of penalties.

Examples of Elder Abuse Laws by State

Elder abuse laws differ widely by state in several different categories.

For example, in California, the punishment and potential prison sentence for some types of elder abuse can vary by the age of the victim, with a harsher penalty if the victim is over 70 years old.

Florida, which has one of the largest senior populations in the country, includes specifications not just for abuse but for different types of elder neglect as well.

Meanwhile, Texas elder abuse laws include a definition of neglect that goes beyond abandonment but also includes a caregiver’s failure to provide elders with required medical services.

The National Center on Elder Abuse provides direct links to every state’s specific elder abuse laws and hotline.

Last Modified: July 20, 2022

4 Cited Research Articles

  1. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). Federal Laws. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/What-We-Do/Policy/Federal-Laws.aspx
  2. National Center on Elder Abuse. (n.d.). State Resources. Retrieved from https://ncea.acl.gov/Resources/State.aspx
  3. United States Department of Justice. (n.d.). State Elder Abuse Statutes. Retrieved from https://www.justice.gov/elderjustice/elder-justice-statutes-0
  4. United States Government Accountability Office. (n.d.). Elder Abuse. Retrieved from https://www.gao.gov/elder-abuse