Protecting elders and vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect

Read this in: Spanish / Español

Read about the different types of abuse that frail elders and vulnerable adults are protected from under the law. #9920EN

Please Note:

  • Read this only if you live in Washington State or are concerned about an older adult who lives here.
  • If you or someone you know is the victim of a crime, you can get help with expenses related to the crime. Visit the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries website to learn more and to apply online.

Part 1: Basics

Washington State's Vulnerable Adult Protection Act, RCW 74.34, protects adults living in the state who are any of these:

  • Age 60 or older who are unable to care for themselves or

  • Has a guardian or conservator or

  • Has a developmental disability or

  • Lives in a care facility of any kind or

  • Gets services at home from a provider

*You can read the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act (RCW 74.34) at your local library or online at If you go to the library, ask the librarian for help finding the RCW volumes.

Abuse here means action (or inaction) that harms a vulnerable adult. This action or inaction is on purpose. The harm to the adult can be:

  • sexual, mental, or physical abuse

  • unreasonably being held somewhere against the vulnerable adult's will

  • intimidation

  • punishment

  • exploitation or abandonment

Neglect happens when a person or agency with a duty to care for a vulnerable adult puts the adult's health, safety, or welfare at risk.


Part 2: Adult Protective Services

Yes. You can call Adult Protective Services (APS), located in your local Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS) office.

Or you can call the statewide hotline at 1-866-363-4276 (1-866-End-Harm).

Yes, if you are any of these:

  • law enforcement

  • social worker or social service, welfare, mental, or health agency worker

  • employee of a care facility

  • doctor, nurse, psychologist or pharmacist

  • nurse's aide or personal care aide

If you are on this list, you must immediately report to APS any time you have reasonable cause to believe someone has abused, neglected, abandoned, or exploited a vulnerable adult. You might also immediately have to report it to law enforcement. Read RCW 74.34.035 to learn more.

Maybe not. APS keeps it confidential unless there is a court case or you let APS use your name.

As long as you are making a report or testifying in good faith, you will not be liable for any damages resulting from the report.

APS must investigate. If APS finds the reported problem has taken place, it must offer the vulnerable adult appropriate information and services. This can include help from other social services and law enforcement. APS must tell the adult that the adult has the right to refuse services.

In that case, APS can ask a court to appoint a guardian for the adult. Read Adult guardianship, conservatorship and other protective arrangements to learn more.

Part 3: When the abuser has Power of Attorney

Yes. You can help the vulnerable adult take back (revoke) power of attorney as soon as possible. Talk to a lawyer, or use our Durable Power of Attorney Documents packet. It has the form and instructions for revoking power of attorney. It also explains how to do an optional new power of attorney. The revocation usually takes effect when you deliver it to the person holding the power of attorney.

Yes. This is still a good idea.

Yes. You should still try to take the abuser's name off any jointly held bank accounts the vulnerable adult owns. You can usually close the account and open a new one in the vulnerable adult's name only.

Yes. After the vulnerable adult has revoked power of attorney, you must have the revocation notarized and recorded at the recording office in every county where the vulnerable adult owns real property.

Part 4: Court Options

Maybe. The vulnerable adult can file for a Protection Order, or someone can do it for the vulnerable adult. Read Domestic Violence: Basics to learn more. You can use our File for a Protection Order printable packet or our interactive interview at Washington Forms Online.  

Maybe. The vulnerable adult can sue for damages for injuries, pain, and suffering; for the loss of money or property; and/or to ask for the return of money or property.
Law enforcement may also charge the abuser with a crime.

Part 5: Other things you can do

Get Legal Help

Visit Northwest Justice Project to find out how to get legal help. 

Download | Printer-friendly

Last Review and Update: Jul 12, 2022
Was this information helpful?
Back to top