Understanding the SAFE Act: A New Shield Against Financial Exploitation in Maryland

November 7, 2023

The tapestry of legal protection for vulnerable populations in our society, such as the elderly and adults with disabilities, has been woven more tightly and strengthened with the introduction of the Statute Against Financial Exploitation (SAFE Act) in Maryland. As an estate planning firm deeply committed to safeguarding the interests of our clients, we feel it’s essential to delve into the nuances of the SAFE Act and explore how it serves as a vital tool in combating financial abuse.

The Emergence of the SAFE Act

Financial exploitation has long been a pernicious and often under-addressed issue, particularly within the elderly community. Prior to the SAFE Act, Maryland, like many states, lacked sufficient legal frameworks to adequately deter, address, and rectify instances of financial abuse among its most vulnerable citizens. The SAFE Act, enacted on October 1, 2021, is a direct response to this shortfall. It’s a product of concerted efforts by legal experts, including the significant contributions of Mr. Spence from the Maryland State Bar Association’s Task Force on Financial Exploitation.

The Scope and Aim of the SAFE Act

The SAFE Act is a legislative victory for older and susceptible adults who previously had limited recourse when faced with financial exploitation. It broadens the spectrum of legal remedies available to victims and their families, enabling them to recover lost assets with less financial burden. Under the SAFE Act, “older adults” are those aged 68 and above, while “susceptible adults” encompass any adult requiring assistance due to various conditions including age, disability, illness, or substance abuse.

Defining Financial Exploitation

The act outlines financial exploitation in three primary ways:

1. Acquisition of assets from a victim lacking competence to understand the transaction.

2. Utilization of deceit, false promises, or criminal acts to extract financial resources from the victim.

3. Abuse of trust by someone in a fiduciary role to obtain a victim’s assets in transactions that are neither fair nor reasonable.

Empowering Victims and Their Families

One of the hallmarks of the SAFE Act is the empowerment it provides to victims and their representatives. It introduces a new civil cause of action that includes the recovery of legal fees and the potential for triple damages. This shifts the financial equation, making it more viable for victims or their families to engage attorneys for their cause, a service our firm, Spence | Brierley, is adept at providing.

Who Can Pursue a Claim?

The SAFE Act widens the net of those who can initiate legal action to include guardians, trustees, family members, heirs, or even the estate’s executor, providing they have standing in the absence of the victim. This inclusive approach ensures that justice can be pursued even posthumously, safeguarding the assets and dignity of the deceased.

The Timeline for Action

The SAFE Act extends the statute of limitations for bringing forth a claim to five years from the date of the exploitation or the date when the exploitation should have reasonably been discovered. This is a critical expansion from Maryland's general three-year limitation, offering a broader time frame for justice to be sought.

Recovery Under the SAFE Act

When it comes to recovery, the SAFE Act opens the door to a range of remedies. Successful litigation can lead to the recuperation of lost assets, treble damages, and legal fees. This potent mix of financial deterrents and compensations is a robust move against would-be exploiters, designed to not only rectify the harm done but also to dissuade potential financial abuse through punitive measures.

Taking Action

At Spence | Brierley, we pride ourselves on being at the forefront of advocating for those impacted by financial exploitation. With expertise in this legal area, we encourage anyone who suspects financial abuse of a loved one to reach out to our seasoned attorneys, Adam Spence or Liz Johnson, for guidance.

A well-prepared lawsuit under the SAFE Act may resemble many situations all too common among those suffering from financial abuse. Recognizing the patterns and understanding the legal pathways for redress is crucial.

Final Thoughts

It’s important to remember that while the SAFE Act is a powerful tool, each case is unique and demands a detailed legal examination tailored to the specific facts at hand. Our firm is dedicated to providing such personalized review and determining the most appropriate course of action for our clients.

The advent of the SAFE Act is a significant stride toward protecting Maryland’s vulnerable adults from financial exploitation. With enhanced legal mechanisms in place, the hope is that this new statute will not only provide restitution for victims but will also serve as a formidable deterrent against the financial abuse of our community's most at-risk members.

A solid estate plan can go a long way to provide protection for vulnerable relatives. Let Stouffer Legal teach you how easy it is to plan and protect your estate – and those of your loved ones.

Photo credit: SlideServe

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