Monday, October 2, 2017

How the Elderly Lose Their Rights

by Rachel Aviv
In the United States, a million and a half adults are under the care of guardians, either family members or professionals, who control some two hundred and seventy-three billion dollars in assets, according to an auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County. Little is known about the outcome of these arrangements, because states do not keep complete figures on guardianship cases—statutes vary widely—and, in most jurisdictions, the court records are sealed. A Government Accountability report from 2010 said, “We could not locate a single Web site, federal agency, state or local entity, or any other organization that compiles comprehensive information on this issue.” A study published this year by the American Bar Association found that “an unknown number of adults languish under guardianship” when they no longer need it, or never did. The authors wrote that “guardianship is generally “permanent, leaving no way out—‘until death do us part.’ ”

In Nevada, as in many states, anyone can become a guardian by taking a course, as long as he or she has not been convicted of a felony or recently declared bankruptcy. Elizabeth Brickfield, a Las Vegas lawyer who has worked in guardianship law for twenty years, said that about fifteen years ago, as the state’s elderly population swelled, “all these private guardians started arriving, and the docket exploded. The court became a factory.”

Pamela Teaster, the director of the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech and one of the few scholars in the country who study guardianship, told me that, though most guardians assume their duties for good reasons, the guardianship system is “a morass, a total mess.” She said, “It is unconscionable that we don’t have any data, when you think about the vast power given to a guardian. It is one of society’s most drastic interventions.”

Once the court approved the guardianship, the wards were often removed from their homes, which were eventually sold. Terry Williams, whose father’s estate was taken over by strangers even though he’d named her the executor of his will, has spent years combing through guardianship, probate, and real-estate records in Clark County. “I kept researching, because I was so fascinated that these people could literally take over the lives and assets of people under color of law, in less than ten minutes, and nobody was asking questions,” she told me. “These people spent their lives accumulating wealth and, in a blink of an eye, it was someone else’s.”

The opinions of wards were also disregarded. In 2010, Guadalupe Olvera, a ninety-year-old veteran of the Second World War, repeatedly asked that his daughter and not Shafer be appointed his guardian. “The ward is not to go to court,” Shafer instructed his assistants. When Olvera was finally permitted to attend a hearing, nearly a year after becoming a ward, he expressed his desire to live with his daughter in California, rather than under Shafer’s care. “Why is everybody against that?” he asked Norheim. “I don’t need that man.” Although Nevada’s guardianship law requires that courts favor relatives over professionals, Norheim continued the guardianship, saying, “The priority ship sailed.”

In the past two years, Nevada has worked to reform its guardianship system through a commission, appointed by the Nevada Supreme Court, to study failures in oversight. In 2018, the Nevada legislature will enact a new law that entitles all wards to be represented by lawyers in court. But the state seems reluctant to reckon with the roots of the problem, as well as with its legacy: a generation of ill and elderly people who were deprived of their autonomy, and also of their families, in the final years of their lives. Last spring, a man bought a storage unit in Henderson, Nevada, and discovered twenty-seven urns—the remains of Clark County wards who had never been buried

Full Article and Source:
How the Elderly Lose Their Rights


Charlie Lyons said...

Very well written and a powerful statement about guardianship.

Denise said...

This same thing happens in every state but you'd think it only happens in NV and FL. It's everywhere. I wish national reporters will look at other states.

It's well written and will bring attention to the problem and I appreciate it. I just wish other states like Oklahoma or Kentucky and states like those had their turn in the limelight.

Anonymous said...

When I see news reports of the horrors, they are typically profoundly understated--as if the writers feared being labeled kooks and thus resort to profound understand.

June said...

We need help in Oregon!


Thank You for writing this and to those who commented. There is a dark undertone to this whole issue of guardianship. Why in the world should anyone have to give up their civil rights due to age or disability? The word incapacitated is thrown around in courts today , placed upon many who clearly are not.

Madeline said...

It's very long but interesting and I hope people really read it all. Thank you for posting.

Nancy said...

This article will raise awareness nationally even if it is focused on Las Vegas. I wonder if people will just thin, "what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas" and miss the message that it's everywhere.

B Inberg said...

This well written article is an example of the growing epidemic, the national pattern of operation.

I agree with Denise and June reporters end up writing about the same cases, with focus on the retirement states of Nevada and Florida leaving many potential victims unaware and unprepared in the other 48.