Wyoming law defines a vulnerable adult as any person over the age of 18 who is unable to manage his or her own money, assets or property without assistance because of advanced age (at least 60 years old) or physical or mental disability.
The term is central to the state’s Adult Protective Services Act, passed here in 2002 to protect vulnerable adults from people -- most often family members -- who mistreat or take advantage of them.
Wyoming law distinguishes between reckless and intentional crimes committed against vulnerable adults.
Reckless abuse, neglect, abandonment, intimidation or exploitation of a vulnerable adult is a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail and/or a fine of up to $1,000.
Intentional abuse, neglect or abandonment of a vulnerable adult, on the other hand, is a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and/or a $10,000 fine.
Both felony and misdemeanor offenders are required to be entered in a central registry for such crimes.
Care providers that employ people to work with children or vulnerable adults are required to run potential hires’ names through the registry.
There also is a crime called exploitation of a vulnerable adult, which is a felony and carries the same punishments as intentional abuse.
Wyoming is a mandatory reporting state, which means any person who knows of or has reason to suspect a vulnerable adult is or was being abused or neglected in some way must report the information to law enforcement or the state Department of Family Services.
The law also includes several definitions of key terms:
- “Abandonment” means leaving a vulnerable adult without financial support or the means or ability to obtain food, clothing, shelter or health care.
- “Abuse” means intentionally or recklessly injuring, intimidating, exploiting or unreasonably confining a vulnerable adult.
It also includes inflicting cruel punishment that causes a vulnerable adult physical or emotional harm or pain, and sexual abuse.
- “Neglect” means depriving of or failing to provide a vulnerable adult with the minimum amount of food, shelter, clothing, supervision, physical and mental health care or prescribed medication needed to maintain his or her life or health.
- “Exploitation” happens when a person recklessly or intentionally uses power of attorney, conservatorship or guardianship to take control of a vulnerable adult’s money, assets or property through deception, harassment, intimidation or undue influence with the intention of depriving the person of those assets.