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Protecting elders and vulnerable adults from abuse and neglect

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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.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

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

  • Age 60 or older who are functionally, mentally, or physically unable to care for themselves or
  • Has a court-appointed guardian or conservator or
  • Has a developmental disability or
  • Lives in a nursing home, adult family home, boarding home, or any other facility or
  • Gets services from home health, hospice, or a home care agency or
  • Gets services from an individual care provider or a personal aide

* You can read the Vulnerable Adult Protection Act (RCW 74.34) at your local library.

Abuse here means non-accidental action (or inaction) that harms a vulnerable adult.

The harm can be:

  • physical or mental injury
  • unreasonably being held somewhere against the vulnerable adult's will
  • intimidation
  • punishment

Abuse includes:

  • sexual abuse
  • mental abuse
  • physical abuse
  • exploitation or abandonment of a vulnerable adult

Neglect is when a person or agency with a duty to care for a vulnerable adult acts (or fails to act) in a way that results in the vulnerable adult not getting care needed to keep them physically or mentally healthy.

Exploitation happens when an abuser illegally or improperly uses a vulnerable adult or the vulnerable adult's income and/or resources, including trust funds or bank accounts, for the abuser's profit or advantage.

Abandonment is when a person or agency with a duty to care for a vulnerable adult acts (or fails to act) in a way that leaves the vulnerable adult unable to get needed food, clothing, shelter, or health care.

Self-neglect means a vulnerable adult, not living in a care facility, cannot provide for themselves the goods and services they need for their own physical or mental health. This hurts or threatens the vulnerable adult's well-being.

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

Alternatively, 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 nursing home, adult family home, boarding home, or adult residential care facility
  • doctor or nurse
  • nurse's aide or personal care aide
  • psychologist
  • pharmacist

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.

They need to know:

  • the vulnerable adult's name and address
  • the nature and extent of the suspected abuse, neglect, exploitation, or abandonment
  • your name and address
  • any other helpful information

Maybe not. APS keeps your identity confidential unless there is a court action or you let them 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 every report of abandonment, abuse, financial exploitation, neglect, or self-neglect. If APS finds the reported problem has taken place, it must offer the vulnerable adult appropriate information and protective services.

APS may coordinate with other social services and law enforcement to provide for and protect the adult. APS must also inform the adult of their right to refuse the services. If APS decides that the adult is not competent to accept or refuse services, APS can file in court to have a guardian appointed.

Maybe. The vulnerable adult or an interested person on their behalf may file for a "Vulnerable Adult Protection Order" in the Superior Court of the county where the vulnerable adult lives. The forms and instructions are online.

If you do not have internet access, ask your court clerk where to get copies of the forms and instructions. They should give these to you for no charge. Ask if there is a courthouse facilitator to help fill out the forms.

  • There is no filing fee for a vulnerable adult protection order.

After you file the petition, if the judge signs off on a temporary order, the vulnerable adult will have temporary protection for up to fourteen days, until there is a hearing. If you cannot have the abuser served in time with notice of the hearing, the judge can extend the fourteen days.

At the hearing, the parties can testify and give evidence. The vulnerable adult can tell the court if they do not want some or any protections. The judge will decide whether to continue, change, or dismiss the order. The judge can issue a protection order for up to five years.

It can:

  • keep the abuser from abusing or exploiting the vulnerable adult
  • keep the abuser out of the vulnerable adult's home
  • stop the abuser from contacting the vulnerable adult
  • require the abuser to provide an accounting of their use of the vulnerable adult's income, property, or other resources
  • stop the abuser from transferring any of the vulnerable adult's property for up to 90 days
  • order the abuser to pay the filing fee, court costs, service fees, attorney's fees, and other costs of bringing the action

You should have that power taken back (revoked) 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 a 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.

  • The form that revokes power of attorney is a revocation.

You should have power of attorney revoked even if the court entered a protection order.

You should also 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.


You must have the revocation notarized and recorded at the recording office in every county where the vulnerable adult owns real property.

Maybe. The vulnerable adult can sue the abuser 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 pursue criminal charges against the abuser.

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Last Review and Update: Apr 25, 2022
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