In a recent case that captured the attention of elder law practitioners, the Court of Appeals of Arizona delivered a decision that underscores the complexities surrounding the definition of “vulnerable adult” under Arizona law. While the case, *Holly Richardson, as Personal Representative of the Estate of Sally A. Hendrix, v. Jack Richard Hannallah, MD et al.*, does not create legal precedent, its insights into the Adult Protective Services Act (APSA) are invaluable for those navigating the legal landscape of elder law, guardianship, and conservatorship.

Hendrix v. Hannallah: Case Overview

Sally Hendrix, a 69-year-old with a diabetic ulcer and other health issues, sought medical treatment that unfortunately led to severe complications. Following her passing, Holly Richardson, representing Hendrix’s estate, initiated a lawsuit against the medical providers, arguing that Hendrix was a “vulnerable adult” under APSA. The court’s task was to determine whether Hendrix’s condition placed her within this category, impacting the applicability of APSA protections.

Key Takeaways from the Court’s Decision

The Court of Appeals affirmed the lower court’s ruling that Hendrix, despite her physical impairments, did not meet APSA’s definition of a “vulnerable adult” primarily because she could manage her personal and financial affairs independently. This decision emphasizes that the determination of vulnerability under APSA hinges not just on physical or mental impairments but on the individual’s overall ability to protect themselves from abuse, neglect, or exploitation.

Definition of “Vulnerable Adult” and its Subparts

APSA defines a “vulnerable adult” as someone 18 years or older who cannot protect themselves due to physical or mental impairments. This case highlights the nuanced interpretation of vulnerability, focusing on the individual’s capacity to safeguard their well-being, rather than the presence of a medical condition alone.

Implications for Elder Law and Guardianship

This decision has significant implications for elder law practice, particularly in cases involving abuse, neglect or exploitation of Arizona’s large population of vulnerable adults. It serves as a reminder of the critical need for clear evidence when asserting that an individual is a “vulnerable adult” under APSA, influencing strategies in both litigation and the planning of elder care.

At Berk Law Group, we specialize in probate, trust, estate, guardianship, conservatorship, and elder law litigation. Our extensive experience and proven track record in these areas allow us to navigate the complexities of cases involving vulnerable adults with precision and empathy.

The recent Arizona Court of Appeals decision is a crucial reminder of the complexities involved in classifying an individual as a “vulnerable adult” under APSA. For legal professionals in the probate, estate, and elder law sectors, a nuanced understanding of these definitions is essential in providing effective representation and support to our clients.  We understand the nuances of APSA and are dedicated to advocating for the rights and dignity of those who may be unable to protect themselves. Our commitment to our clients and depth of expertise make us a trusted ally in safeguarding the interests of vulnerable adults and their families.  Please contact us if you have any questions.

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