Charles Waldon spent decades working several jobs while raising a family of five children. He invested in real estate in South Florida and in Georgia, all aimed at building a nice nest for retirement.
"I worked all my life, you know, and tried to build up a retirement," said Waldon via Skype Monday. "I think I did a pretty good job."
But Waldon can’t enjoy the fruits of the retirement he worked so hard to build. The 85-year-old former firefighter is in the midst of a family conflict between his youngest daughter, Carla Alger, and his daughters – Sandra Dunn, Inez Howard and Glenda Waldon. The family’s strong divisions over money, care of their parents, and properties and produced accusations of exploitation from both sides. So Alger asked Miami-Dade Probate Court to help protect her parents and the retirement funds they need during their senior years, she said.
"Granted I started the process out of desperation because I thought if I don’t do something they [her sisters] are going to take mom and dad,” Alger said while in court last week.
Her sister Sandra "Sandi" Dunn disagrees.
“My dad is on food stamps. She’s preventing him for accessing his own money,” Dunn said.
Last year, a Miami-Dade probate judge appointed a professional guardian for the couple – Charles and Peggy Waldon – after a panel of doctors said they were incompetent. Peggy, who suffers from dementia and requires round the clock care, is a ward of the state.
No Financial Oversight
With Florida’s 3.7 million people over 65 years of age, elder exploitation has become the crime of the 21st century, experts said. The guardianship system is driven by money and entrenched in relationships with all the ward’s assets used to pay the fees of all attorneys, medical experts and the guardian, sometimes exhausting seniors’ savings.
"When you take away someone’s constitutional rights and you put into third party hands – a total of $270 billion in the United States – it is just simply rife for fraud, waste and abuse,” said Sharon Bock, Palm Beach County Clerk and Comptroller.
Charles and Peggy Waldon are among 8,000 guardianship cases in Miami-Dade probate courts system with virtually no financial oversight or a system in place to watch over how the money is spent. Miami-Dade is hardly alone – a few counties in the state have watchdogs looking over the trouble guardianship system.
In recent years, Palm Beach County has stepped into that role by using trained auditors and fraud investigators who work for the clerk and comptroller’s office under the division of the inspector general in charge of investigating fraud, waste and abuse and by performing in-depth audits.
"I think that now the whole United States has seen that a court system without an intermediary, like the clerk, is a conflict of interest. That’s been proven,” Bock said.
To address this issue across the state, Florida Elder Affairs Secretary Sam Verghese and Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock announced Friday a pilot investigative program during Florida State Guardianship Association annual conference held in Fort Lauderdale.
"If you are unscrupulous and you are looking for an easy way to make money or especially targeting the elderly, you are not going to look to guardianships any more. We are closing that hole,” Bock said.
The program will include a hotline where people can file a complaint that would spark an investigation into how senior’s money is being spent by a guardian.
Waldon doesn’t have control over his money, including his firefighter’s pension, since he left Florida. Early this year, the guardian filed a monthly budget with Miami-Dade probate court to cover Waldon’s personal expenses in Georgia like electric, water, health insurance bills and groceries, documents show.
"I’m not getting anything except Social Security and food stamps," Waldon said. "I went to Social Security and they said that my guardian had no right to seize my Social Security. They gave it to me."
In the meantime, their guardian, attorneys and caretakers are racking up bills and will get paid from the Waldons’ money. But how much they are getting paid is a mystery because documentation such as monthly invoices is not part of the public file.
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New Program to Root Out Fraud in Florida's Guardianship Program