Major Wins for Aging Unveiled in the State of the State

Black woman carrying a purple rolling bag against blue background.

Governor Kathy Hochul’s plan for a New Era for New York was unveiled earlier this year at her first State of the State address. Among the proposals to connect older New Yorkers to social supports, Governor Hochul articulated a commitment which would have a great impact on our clients and others similarly situated; the plan to establish an Elder Abuse Financial Exploitation Prevention Program in the Department of Financial Services (DFS). If implemented, this program might reduce the need for guardianship, and provide much needed support for New Yorkers to age safely. 


Despite its prevalence, elder abuse, often in the form of financial exploitation, struggles to rise to prominence on city agendas. According to New York State Social Services Law Section 473 (6)(g), financial exploitation is defined as "the improper use of an adult’s funds, property, or resources by another individual. It includes, but is not limited to, fraud, false pretenses, embezzlement, conspiracy, forgery, falsifying records, coerced property transfers, and denial of access to assets, all of which are crimes under the law” (Office of the Statewide Coordinating  Judge for Family Violence Cases, 2017). It is estimated that 1 out of 24 older adults in New York are financially exploited (Office of the Statewide Coordinating Judge for Family Violence Cases, 2017). Financial exploitation often goes unreported due to shame, and can cause the victim emotional and financial devastation. People subject to financial exploitation may end up losing their homes, access to quality care, and even their independence. Given this variability, each case of financial exploitation deserves multidisciplinary, multi-agency, and multi-systems responses. In order to establish the financial capacity of an individual, input from medical, legal, and judicial systems is required. Ending financial exploitation should be a priority in the cause of advancing health equity and reducing and eliminating elder abuse in New York.


Preventing elder financial abuse will alleviate the 1.5 million dollar costs these cases accrue annually (Office of the Statewide Coordinating Judge for Family Violence Cases, 2017). 

In a social system where ageist ideologies abound, it is necessary to tackle this specific form of elder abuse as effectively as we can. In the past, the NYC Department for the Aging (DFTA) partnered with a financial-technology company to provide a Bill Payer Program service for older adults. The age and minimum income requirements for the DFTA Program, however, exclude some of New York’s most indigent. While the technological infrastructure exists, we must lower eligibility requirements for bill paying services, knowing that each case is unique. We are confident that a more equitable support system for those most vulnerable to financial exploitation is possible, with an investment by the Department for Financial Services. We must establish guidelines on what constitutes financial (in)capacity, and develop a service that includes an audit of the recipient’s financials. With the collaboration of other governmental agencies and community outreach, a training program could be developed. Governor Hochul’s commitment to creating this program demonstrates her effort to protect our older neighbors. Similar to DFTA’s program, the DFS program should “review and process the payment of your bills each month and inform [you] of any discrepancies or potential fraud” (DFTA). These kinds of decisional support and protective arrangements for older adults keep them out of unnecessary care arrangements, and enable them to age in community. New York has an opportunity to provide a model on how to prevent elder financial abuse. 


At Project Guardianship, we are invested in finding creative solutions to help people age with dignity, maximize autonomy and increase independence. As the population ages, there has been a more pressing need to improve the guardianship system, but also to keep people out of it. Our multi-system approach includes advocacy for the implementation of policies that will provide less restrictive alternatives to guardianship. A fintech service such as the one Governor Hochul has expressed support for might reduce the need for guardianship in many cases, where financial capacity is reduced. This service would likely reduce the court’s default to guardianship, and provide a robust alternative to guardianship by allowing someone to retain their rights, stay in their home, and maintain financial independence. By engaging the court system and educating the public on what financial exploitation commonly looks like, we could eliminate this form of elder abuse, and reduce the strain on criminal courts. Functional limitations, such as reduced financial capacity, should not bar anyone from living a safe, dignified life in New York.