April 11, 2019
On March 9, 2019, the West Virginia Legislature passed House Bill 2618, which amended and reenacted §55-7J-1 of the West Virginia Code redefining “financial exploitation” to include the “use of undue influence resulting in diminishment of assets of an elderly person, protected person, or incapacitated adult.” Additionally, House Bill 2618 also created a new protective order that would offer temporary relief to any elderly person, protected person, or incapacitated adult suffering from financial exploitation. Any person who believes that any elderly person, protected person, or incapacitated adult is being financially exploited may file for a protective order in magistrate court or circuit court in the county in which the victim resides without notice to the person alleged to be engaging in financial exploitation and without that person being present.
Due to the nature of financial exploitation matters, most investigations take a substantial amount of time to complete. Legal Aid’s Financial Exploitation Attorneys assist their clients with requesting and compiling financial records and researching those records to determine whether financial exploitation is occurring. Depending on the client and their financial history, investigations may take months to complete and even longer before a civil complaint is filed. More time for an exploiter to further exploit their victim’s funds.
However, once the changes to §55-7J-1 take effect in ninety days, Legal Aid of West Virginia will have more options available to better assist financial exploitation victims. The new protective order will offer immediate relief for victims and prevent further financial exploitation to occur while Legal Aid investigates for potential financial exploitation for their clients. Not having to give the exploiter notice of the protective order request allows Legal Aid and their clients to immediately freeze financial accounts and protect client funds without risking the exploiter of “taking the money and run” before a complaint is filed. Lastly, the added “undue influence” definition in the West Virginia Code will provide Financial Exploitation Attorneys stronger arguments in court and, hopefully, more successful outcomes for their clients against exploiters.