What is the legal definition of a vulnerable adult?
A vulnerable adult is a person who:
- is sixty years old or older and does not have the functional, mental, or physical ability to care for himself/herself;
- has been found by a judge to be incapacitated under Chapter 11.88 of Washington law;
- has a developmental disability as defined by law;
- was admitted to any facility;
- is receiving services from home health, hospice, or home care agencies licensed or required to be licensed under Chapter 70.127 of Washington law;
- is receiving services from an individual provider; or
- self-directs his/her own care and receives services from a personal aide under Chapter 74.39 of Washington law.1
1 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(22)
What is the legal definition of abuse against a vulnerable adult?
Abuse against a vulnerable adult includes:
- personal exploitation;
- improper use of restraints;
- financial exploitation; or
- the threat of any of the above behaviors.1
1 R.C.W. § 74.34.110(1)
What are the legal definitions of abandonment, abuse, personal exploitation, improper use of restraints, neglect, and financial exploitation?
Abandonment is an action (or failure to act) by a person who has a duty to care for the vulnerable adult that leaves the vulnerable adult without the means or ability to get needed food, clothing, shelter, or care.1
Abuse is the intentional action (or failure to act) that causes injury, unreasonable confinement, intimidation, or punishment to a vulnerable adult. Abuse includes sexual abuse, mental abuse, and physical abuse.2
Personal exploitation is:
- the act of forcing, compelling, or using undue influence over a vulnerable adult and causing him/her to act in a way that is different than related past behavior; or
- causing the vulnerable adult to perform services for the benefit of another.3
Improper use of restraints means the inappropriate use of chemical, physical, or mechanical restraints for convenience or discipline in a way that:
- is inconsistent with federal or state licensing or certification requirements for facilities, hospitals, or programs authorized by law;
- is not medically allowed; or
- otherwise constitutes abuse.4
Neglect is when a person or entity with a duty to care for a vulnerable adult:
- engages in a pattern of conduct or fails to act in a way that provides the goods or services that are needed to keep the vulnerable adult mentally and physically healthy or fails to avoid or prevent physical or mental harm or pain to the vulnerable adult; or
- acts or fails to act in a way that shows a serious disregard of the outcome to such a degree as to constitute a clear and present danger to the vulnerable adult’s health, welfare, or safety, including but not limited to conduct that is not allowed under the law.5
Financial exploitation is the illegal or improper use, control over, or withholding of the property, income, resources, or trust funds of the vulnerable adult by any person or entity for the profit or advantage of any person or entity other than the vulnerable adult.6
1 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(1)
2 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(2)
3 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(2)(d)
4 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(2)(e)
5 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(16)
6 R.C.W. § 74.34.020(7)
What types of vulnerable adult protection orders are there? How long do they last?
There are two types of vulnerable adult protection orders: temporary orders and full orders.
Temporary orders: A temporary order is one that a judge can order ex parte when the petition is filed in court. Ex parte means that the judge can issue the order without the abuser being present or having notice of the case and if someone filed the petition on behalf of the vulnerable adult, without the vulnerable adult being present or receiving notice. To issue the temporary order without written notice to the respondent and the vulnerable adult, the petitioner (the person filing the case) must provide the judge with an affidavit (sworn written statement) that shows either that:
- immediate and irreparable injury, loss, or damage to the vulnerable adult would occur before the parties could receive notice; or
- the parties cannot be served with notice. You must also show your efforts to serve them and the reasons why notice should not be required.1
A temporary order can last for up to 14 days until the hearing for the full order.2
Full orders: The judge can issue a full vulnerable adult protection order after the respondent (and the vulnerable adult) receives notice and has the opportunity to appear in court for a hearing. The respondent must be served with notice at least 6 days before the hearing.3 If a third party (someone other than the vulnerable adult) starts the case, the vulnerable adult must also be served with notice at least 6 days before the hearing.4 The judge can issue a full vulnerable adult protection order for a period of up to 5 years.5
1 R.C.W. § 74.34.120(5)(b)
2 R.C.W. § 74.34.120(1)
3 R.C.W. § 74.34.120(2)
4 R.C.W. § 74.34.120(3)
5 R.C.W. § 74.34.130
What protections can a vulnerable adult get in a vulnerable adult protection order?
Through a vulnerable adult protection order, the judge can order that the abuser:
- not commit acts of abandonment, abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation against the vulnerable adult;
- stay away from the vulnerable adult’s residence for a specified period or until further order of the court;
- not contact the vulnerable adult for a specified period or until further order of the court;
- not knowingly come or remain within a certain distance from a specific location;
- provide an accounting of the use of the vulnerable adult’s income or other resources;
- not transfer his/her property or the vulnerable adult’s property for a specific period of time not longer than 90 days; and
- pay a filing fee and court costs, including service fees, and reimburse the petitioner (the person who filed for the order) for costs of starting the court case, including reasonable attorney’s fees.1
1 R.C.W. § 74.34.130
If the abuser lives in a different state, can I still get an order against him/her?
When you and the abuser live in different states, the judge may not have “personal jurisdiction” (power) over an out-of-state abuser. This means that the court may not be able to grant an order against him/her.
There are a few ways that a court can have personal jurisdiction over an out-of-state abuser:
- The abuser has a substantial connection to your state. Perhaps the abuser regularly travels to your state to visit you, for business, to see extended family, or the abuser lived in your state and recently fled.
- One of the acts of abuse “happened” in your state. Perhaps the abuser sends you threatening texts or harassing phone calls from another state but you read the messages or answer the calls while you are in your state. The judge could decide that the abuse “happened” to you while you were in your state. It may also be possible that the abuser was in your state when s/he abused you s/he but has since left the state.
- If you file your petition and the abuser gets served with the court petition while s/he is in your state, this is another way for the court to get jurisdiction.
However, even if none of the above apply to your situation, it doesn’t necessarily mean that you can’t get an order. If you file, you may be granted an order on consent or the judge may find other circumstances that allow the order to be granted.
You can read more about personal jurisdiction in our Court System Basics - Personal Jurisdiction section.
Note: If the judge in your state refuses to issue an order, you can file for an order in the courthouse in the state where the abuser lives. However, remember that you will likely need to file the petition in person and attend various court dates, which could be difficult if the abuser’s state is far away.