Important Considerations for Seeking a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order in Washington State

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In Washington State, there are six types of civil protection orders which are aimed at protecting specific classes of individuals in unsafe and particularly susceptible situations. These situations include those involving:

  • Domestic Violence;
  • Sexual Assault;
  • Stalking;
  • Harassment;
  • Extreme Risk with firearms; and
  • Vulnerable adults who face threats of physical/mental/financial harm.

These different types of civil protection orders were made up of statutes scattered in various different sections of Washington State law. However, in 2021, the Washington State legislature passed a new law which consolidated the six types of civil protection orders in the state within the framework of one set of statutes which take effect on July 1, 2022. In doing so, the legislature developed new requirements for the filing of, notice of, and prosecution of these protection orders as a result of combining the requirements of the six civil protection orders.

The Washington State legislature created the Vulnerable Adult Protection Action (VAPA) as a method to obtain a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order (VAPO) for adults who lack the ability to perform tasks associated with or obtain services to maintain his/her/their well-being. These individuals are particularly prone to abuse, neglect, financial exploitation, or abandonment by a family member, care provider, or other person who has a relationship with the vulnerable adult.

In considering whether a Vulnerable adult protection action is an appropriate remedy to pursue, there are important considerations to take into account due to the consequences that a civil protection order may have on the filing individual, the protected party which is intended to be protected, and the respondent party who is intended to be restrained.

Does the Intended Protected Party Qualify as a Vulnerable Adult?

A civil protection order generally requires the intended protected party to meet a certain definition of a protected class in order to qualify for a protection order and a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order is no different. A person is considered a “vulnerable adult” if he/she/they are:

(a) Sixty years of age or older who has the functional, mental, or physical inability to care for himself or herself; or
(b) Found to be subject to guardianship/conservatorship; or
(c) Who has a developmental disability as defined under law; or
(d) Admitted to any facility; or
(e) Receiving services from home health, hospice, or home care agencies licensed or required to be licensed under law; or
(f) Receiving services from an individual provider defined under law; or
(g) Who self-directs his or her own care and receives services from a personal aide defined under law.

Is a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order Appropriate or Enough?

Before seeking a protection order, consider whether there are more appropriate avenues of protection or if a protection order alone is sufficient. If you are considering a vulnerable adult protection order, our experienced trust and estate litigation team can assist you in evaluating the situation to ensure that the most appropriate avenue of relief is being sought.

  • If the situation involves potential financial exploitation of the vulnerable adult’s bank or investment account, have you considered alerting the financial institution involved in order to put a hold on a transaction or a freeze on the account? Financial Institutions have an obligation to train their staff to recognize situations of potential financial exploitation and often times will put a short-term hold or freeze in place to allow enough time for either a protection order to be sought or law enforcement to be alerted.
  • Is the situation serious enough that law enforcement should be involved? If the vulnerable adult is facing an imminent threat of physical harm or significant financial harm, a civil protection order such a VAPO may not be sufficient or time-sensitive enough to protect the vulnerable adult. Law enforcement may need to be contacted or be involved.
  • Does the threat involve the abuse of power-of-attorney authority? If the threat involves the exploitation of trust given to a person who has power-of-attorney authority (sometimes referred to as the “Attorney-in-Fact”) over the vulnerable adult, seeking court action on limiting or terminating the power-of-attorney authority may be needed instead of or in addition to seeking a vulnerable adult protection order, as a VAPO is a very narrow form of relief and may not solve the problem completely.
  • Is a Guardianship/Conservatorship/Protective Arrangement also necessary? A protection order may stop a current threat to the vulnerable adult from occurring, but if the vulnerable adult lacks the decision-making capacity to stop future threats from happening because he/she has or they have not put a power-of-attorney into place (or if the power-of-attorney is the source of the threat), then additional safeguards may need to be put into place. You can find out more information regarding what a Guardianship/Conservatorship is by reading our article about them here.
  • Is a Vulnerable Adult Protection Order the correct type of protection order to be seeking? As stated earlier in this article, there are six total different types of protection orders that each provide different types of protection for different classes of individuals in different situations of vulnerability. If the protected party does not meet the definition of a vulnerable adult, he/she/they may meet the definition of a protected class for one of the other forms of protection orders.

Protection Order Resources

If you are considering a vulnerable adult protection order, you should seek the representation of an experienced attorney to assist you in navigating through the process. Our trust and estate litigation team has extensive experience with both pursuing and defending against vulnerable adult protection orders and have taught multiple continuing legal education courses to the Washington State Bar Association and Washington Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.

The following are state and county-provided resources for individuals seeking assistance with protection orders. Helsell Fetterman LLP is not creating an attorney-client relationship by providing these publicly available resources nor does providing these resources or any individual’s reliance on these resources constitute legal advice given by Helsell Fetterman LLP. Filing to obtain a protection order is only the first step in a complicated litigation process and you should seek the representation of competent counsel to assist you.

Washington State Protection Order Resources –

Local County Protection Order Resources:

About the Authors

Kevin Khong

Kevin is an associate of the firm’s trust and estate litigation practice group and assists clients in matters involving will contests, trust account discrepancies, fiduciary abuse, guardianships, and committed intimate relationships.

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