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Heiress Huguette Clark: Elder Abuse Victim?

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on August 26, 2010 12:51 PM

The oldest hath borne most; we that are young shall never see so much, nor live so long. --William Shakespeare, King Lear

It can happen to anyone, rich or poor. In this case, it may be happening to someone very, very wealthy so we are all talking about it. The questions surrounding the daily life of Huguette Clark the "reclusive heiress" are still mostly unanswered. She owns millions of dollars worth of beautiful homes, but lives in a single hospital room in New York City.

"Who protects an old lady who has no children, and whose distant relatives have been prevented from visiting her? Who protects an old lady who secluded herself from the world, limiting her life to a single room, playing dress-up with her dolls and watching cartoons?" MSNBC asked these questions in just one of its many reports on the Clark case. Now all of us need to ask bigger ones. With our eyes opened by Huguette Clark we need to ask, who protects our older family members? Not just from physical harm, but from other types of harm as well?

Even money can't buy freedom from potential elder abuse as the cases of Brooke Astor and Huguette Clark show. An inquiry into the "well-being" of Huguette Clark was begun by New York City officials. The Manhattan DA is looking into the handling of her financial affairs, including the sale of a famous Stradivarius violin owned by Clark and sold by her attorney for $6 million. MSNBC reports these investigations were prompted by calls from those who read the story. "Your readers contacted us from all over the country," Rima Rivera, director of Adult Protective Services central intake unit, told MSNBC. "They were saying: 'You'd better do something. This happened to my grandmother. Don't let it happen to this woman.'"

According to the American Psychological Association, every year nearly 2.1 million older Americans are victims of physical, psychological, or other forms of abuse and neglect. An even more important statistic is this; for every case of elder abuse and neglect that is reported to authorities, experts believe there may be as many as five cases that have not been reported.

Elder abuse is defined by the APA this way: elder abuse is the infliction of physical, emotional, or psychological harm on an older adult. Elder abuse also can take the form of financial exploitation or intentional or unintentional neglect of an older adult by the caregiver. The APA notes most elder abuse does not take place in a nursing home, but in the family home.

In the case of Huguette Clark, New York Adult Protective Services is now attempting to get permission to visit Miss Clark in the hospital and trying to contact the distant relatives who are her only remaining family. The agency will share information it finds with the District Attorney regarding any financial exploitation that may be uncovered.

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