Seniors’ rights and elder abuse

Middle-aged woman looking to the side

When someone in a trusted relationship with an older person does something that harms or distresses them, this is elder abuse. Learn what options exist if you suspect elder abuse.

What you should know

Under the law in BC, all adults are entitled to live in the manner they wish as long as they don’t harm others and they are capable of making decisions.

Older adults, like everyone, have the right to live in safety and security. When someone in a relationship of trust with an older person does something that causes them harm or distress, this is called elder abuse.

Elder abuse takes many forms. It can be physical abuse, including striking or pushing an older adult, over- or under-medicating them, or inappropriately restraining them.

It can be psychological abuse that decreases their sense of self-worth or dignity. This includes insulting or humiliating an older adult, intimidating or threatening them, treating them like a child, invading their privacy, or isolating them from friends or activities.

It can be financial abuse. This can involve misusing or stealing an older adult's assets or money, pressuring them to change a will or sign legal documents they don’t fully understand, or sharing their home without paying a fair share of the expenses when asked.

It can take the form of neglect. This is a lack of action that harms an older person, such as not providing appropriate food or shelter, medical attention, or assistance with basic necessities.

Often, more than one type of abuse occurs at the same time. Abuse can be a single incident or a repeated pattern of behaviour.

If you or someone you know is in immediate danger, dial 9-1-1 or call the emergency number listed in the front of your phone book.

In non-emergency situations, there are many organizations that can help abused or neglected older adults or their friends and family get help and protection. The BC Association of Community Response Networks are people working on a local level to help coordinate community response to elder abuse. Their website features a way to search for contacts and supports in your community.

VictimLink BC is a toll-free, confidential, telephone service available 24x7. They provide information and referral services to all victims of crime and immediate crisis support to victims of family and sexual violence. You can contact them at 1-800-563-0808 or online.

If the adult can’t seek help on their own

An older adult who is struggling to manage on their own is particularly vulnerable to abuse.

If you have concerns about the health and safety of an adult, or suspect they are being abused or neglected, you may make a confidential report to a “designated agency." The designated agencies in BC are the five regional health authorities, Providence Health Care, and Community Living BC (for adults with developmental disabilities). If a designated agency receives a report, it will investigate and offer support and assistance to the adult, or take steps to protect the adult. The Public Guardian and Trustee of BC, a public office that provides services to vulnerable people in the province, has a list of numbers to call for designated agencies in communities across the province on its website.

You can also seek help from the Public Guardian and Trustee if you have concerns about the financial and legal affairs of a vulnerable adult (for example, you suspect there is financial abuse). You can make a report to the Public Guardian and Trustee through its website or by calling 604-660-4444. They can help identify options, and investigate if there is an urgent need.

If the adult is in assisted living

The Assisted Living Registrar has a mandate to protect the health and safety of assisted living residents. If you are concerned about the health and safety of someone living in an assisted living residence, you can contact the Registrar by calling toll-free 1-866-714-3378.

If you report elder abuse to a designated agency, they must consider your report. An investigator must make reasonable efforts to interview the older adult involved (whether that’s you or someone else).

If the problem can’t be solved informally, the designated agency may suggest options, including preparing a support and assistance plan, notifying the Public Guardian and Trustee (if there is a concern of financial abuse), and applying for a restraining order to keep the suspected abuser away. The designated agency must involve the older adult, to the greatest extent possible, in decisions about how to seek support and assistance.

If the abuse involves a criminal offence such as threats, assault, forgery or intimidation, the designated agency must report it to the police.

Where there is financial abuse

The Public Guardian and Trustee investigates reports of financial elder abuse when the older adult’s assets are at risk and the person is incapable of managing their financial affairs. In some situations, the Public Guardian and Trustee may take steps to become committee of the estate, so it can make financial decisions to protect the person’s assets. If the Public Guardian and Trustee gets a report involving concerns about physical risk, it will refer the situation to a designated agency.

If you are concerned about the response offered by a designated agency to a report of abuse, you have options.

If you reported the abuse to a health authority, you can complain to the health authority’s Patient Care Quality Office. Each health authority has one. You can make a complaint online. If you’re still not satisfied with how your complaint was handled or with the response you received, you can request that a Patient Care Quality Review Board look into the matter. Again, each health authority has one.

Another option if you are concerned with the care or service provided to you or a family member by a health authority, is you can contact the Office of the Seniors Advocate. The Seniors Advocate monitors seniors’ services and issues in BC, and makes recommendations to government and service providers to address systemic issues. You can call 1-877-952-3181 or visit their website.

Under the law in BC, all adults are entitled to live in the manner they wish and to accept or refuse support as long as they don’t harm others and they are capable of making decisions about those matters. Every adult is presumed to be capable of making decisions about their personal care, health care and financial affairs.

The law presumes all adults are capable of giving, refusing, or revoking their consent to health care, unless it’s clear they are not capable of making those decisions. If a doctor questions a person’s mental capability, the doctor can require the person to have a capacity assessment performed by a medical expert. Our information on adults and consent to health care explains this more fully.

Common questions

It’s a good idea to plan for the possibility you won’t be able to make your own decisions. For example, to deal with decisions on your legal and financial affairs, you can make a power of attorney. With an “enduring power of attorney” you can appoint another person to make financial and legal decisions for you. It continues — or endures — if you become mentally incapable. The person you appoint is called your attorney.

To deal with personal care and health care decisions, you can make a representation agreement. With this document you can appoint someone, called a representative, to help you make, or to make, personal and health care decisions if you cannot make these decisions on your own. For more on these planning documents, see our information on powers of attorney and representation agreements.

If you do not have a representative, and someone needs to make a health care decision for you, a temporary substitute decision-maker may need to be appointed. See our information on adults and consent to health care. It explains temporary substitute decision-makers and advance directives, which are written instructions about health care wishes.

It depends. As people age, they often need help with their daily needs, but may not want to leave the comfort of their own homes. Sometimes, family members or friends will suggest they move into your home and have you transfer your home to them in exchange for their looking after you. This can be a good way to get the help you need, while letting the younger family member or friend get a home.

But this arrangement can cause misunderstandings and trouble. As your health changes and your needs increase, the family member or friend may not be able to give you the care you need, without significantly changing their own lives. For example, they may have to quit their job and stay at home with you to care for you. But they may not be willing to do that. At that point, you may need to sell your home to pay for health care and assisted living help.

In most cases, it’s not a good idea to transfer your home to your child or to add their name to the title of your home. It opens up the risk that creditors and spouses could make claims against your home. And you could lose the capital gains tax exemption for your principal residence if a child’s name is on the title, but it’s not their principal residence.

So before you make such an arrangement, it’s best to get legal advice. See our information on free and low-cost legal help.

Older people often help their children or grandchildren by lending them money, co-signing a bank loan, or giving a personal guarantee. You could lose a lot of money if you don’t protect yourself by understanding the transaction and getting proper documents signed.

If you lend money to finance a home purchase, make sure you register a mortgage on the home to secure your interest. If you don’t want to do that, you should at least get the borrower (and their spouse) to sign a promissory note with the loan terms.

If you guarantee a family member’s bank loan, you are promising to pay the bank in full if the borrower doesn’t repay the loan. You’re responsible for the full amount of the loan, and the bank can come after you for it. Make sure any guarantee you sign is for a specific amount. See our information on co-signing or guaranteeing a loan.

Before you lend money to a friend or family member, it’s best to get legal advice on the best way to protect your loan and your personal liability.

You can always change your will as long as you’re mentally capable. Actually, you should change your will whenever your financial or personal circumstances change, or if your beneficiaries change (for example, if a beneficiary dies).

You should also review your will if you get married or divorced, or you separate, or you live in a marriage-like relationship for at least two years. Until 2013 (when the law changed), when a person got married, the marriage automatically revoked or cancelled their existing will. Under the current law, that does not happen.

For more, see our information on preparing a will and estate planning.

You can, but it may not work. In general, you are free to leave your estate to whomever you want. However, the law does require that you make adequate provision for the proper maintenance and support of your spouse and children. Your spouse or children can apply to court for a portion of the estate that is "adequate, just and equitable in the circumstances".

For more, see our information on preparing a will and estate planning.

Who can help

The Seniors Abuse and Information Line (SAIL) is a safe, confidential place for older adults and those who care about them to talk to someone about situations where they feel they are being abused or mistreated. This service is operated by Seniors First BC, a non-profit that helps seniors with legal problems.

  • Call 604-437-1940 in the Lower Mainland
  • Call 1-866-437-1940 (toll-free)
  • Visit website

VictimLink BC is a toll-free, confidential, telephone service available 24x7. They provide information and referral services to all victims of crime.

The BC Association of Community Response Networks are people working on a local level to help coordinate community response to elder abuse.

The Public Guardian and Trustee of BC, a public office that provides services to vulnerable people in the province, includes information on its website about elder abuse and adult guardianship.

  • Call 604-660-4444 in Vancouver
  • Call 1-800-663-7867 (toll-free)
  • Visit website

  • This information applies to British Columbia, Canada
  • Reviewed for legal accuracy in July 2018
  • Time to read: 10 minutes

Reviewed for legal accuracy by

Nicole Garton, Heritage Law and Elizabeth Markus, Heritage Law

Nicole Garton, Heritage Law
Elizabeth Markus, Heritage Law

Share this page

This information from People’s Law School explains in a general way the law that applies in British Columbia, Canada. The information is not intended as legal advice. See our disclaimer.


On Dial-A-Law

Dial-A-Law has more information on Rights of specific groups in the section on Rights & citizenship.

Copyright 2022 People's Law School

We are grateful to work on the unceded traditional territories of the xʷməθkʷəy̓əm (Musqueam), Sḵwx̱wú7mesh (Squamish) and səlilwətaɬ (Tsleil-Waututh) Nations, whose Peoples continue to live on and care for these lands.