Created by FindLaw's team of legal writers and editors| Last updated March 04, 2021
Elder abandonment is a form of elder abuse. It occurs when a person has assumed responsibility for providing care to an elderly individual -- but then deserts that individual. There are variations in how states define elder abandonment, but the general principles are the same.
Background on Elder Abandonment
Elder abandonment is generally defined as the purposeful and permanent desertion of an elderly person. The victim may be left at a hospital, a nursing home, or in a public location. Perhaps the abandoning person feels overburdened or believes he or she lacks the resources to care for the victim. Whatever the reason, one can only imagine the confusion and despair that the victim feels.
Statistics for elder abandonment are hard to come by because many incidents go unreported, and because abandonment is sometimes used interchangeably with elder neglect, which is the failure or refusal to fulfill one's duties or obligations to an elderly person.
Elder Abandonment Laws
Every state has some form of elder abandonment law. There are variations in language and applicability. California, for example, defines elder abandonment as the purposeful desertion of an elderly person by someone caring for that person. In California, any person who has care or custody of any elderly person is subject to this provision.
On the other hand, Delaware's abandonment law falls under "neglect," and is defined as the purposeful abandonment of an impaired adult. Note that the Delaware law applies only to the impaired elderly, while California's law applies to any elderly person.
Like Delaware, New York's abandonment law is termed "neglect." However, New York law contains two categories of neglect, "active" and "passive." The difference depends on whether the neglect was willful. Both of these neglect categories concern the failure by someone providing care to an elderly person to fulfill those care-taking duties.
On top of the state elder abandonment laws, the federal government has also enacted laws to protect older adults from abandonment. The federal Elder Justice Act requires certain individuals at long-term care facilities to report crimes committed against elderly residents. In order to prevent cases of abuse and abandonment, it's important for the elderly and those caring for them to know about their rights and responsibilities.
Spotting Elder Abandonment
An elderly person who is alone and who appears confused, lost, or frightened may be the victim of abandonment. Other signs of abandonment or neglect include the elderly person looking frail, appearing lonely or depressed, being malnourished or dehydrated, and having poor hygiene.
It is understandable that a person looking to help may worry that he or she is imposing or being rude by approaching a possible victim. If that is the case, calling a police officer, a park ranger, or a social worker would be a good option.