Some people call it the "silver tsunami." America's population is
aging and with it more and more of our parents and grandparents are
falling victim to exploitation.
Seventy-four-year-old Lin McDowell
believes she's one of those senior citizens. McDowell lived old school –
she never rang up credit card debt. She paid cash for her cars, and
consistently saved as she worked for decades in different careers,
including as a project manager position at NASA, a real estate agent,
and an art gallery owner.
"I had a $100,000 CD, I had a very good stock portfolio. I had investments," said McDowell.
2012 McDowell, divorced and estranged from her children, lived in a
quaint rambler with pretty gardens in the backyard, on a nice street in
Vancouver, Wash. By then, she'd managed to bank nearly $250,000 in cash
and cash equivalents.
Two-and-a half years later, the bank account's been drained to roughly $20,000. The home's been sold.
"I've sold my wedding rings (to buy groceries)," said McDowell.
and her dog Sam live in a motor home in an RV park just a few feet from
noisy Interstate 5, with a Subway sandwich shop in the backyard. And
that's where the RV stays put. McDowell can't afford the gas to take it
out on the road.
"I am absolutely broke, yeah," said McDowell.
"You don't realize that everything you've earned and worked for your
whole lifetime can be taken away."
McDowell didn't get robbed or
taken by an illegal pyramid scheme. She lost her life savings right
underneath the noses of at least four different Clark County Superior
Court judges who oversaw a perfectly legal professional guardianship
that was put in place to manage McDowell's affairs.
ago after a series of health problems, a psychologist diagnosed McDowell
with "cognitive impairment" and "psychotic delusions." A judge ruled
she was an "incapacitated person" in need of a professional guardian.
With no family around to help, a professional would be in charge of McDowell's mail, bills, and nearly all her decisions.
McDowell completely disagreed with the decision to place her under guardianship.
have no rights. Here's a piece of paper from the court that says you
have no rights. I couldn't sign my own name," said McDowell.
where did all the money go? Records show once a guardian started on the
case, so did the spending. The first guardian spent nearly every
penny of Lin's cash in under two years. Most of the money paid for
attorneys, a caregiver service and guardian fees.
Some of the charges reviewed by KING include:
- $342 for a three hour breakfast with her client at Biscuits Cafe.
- $95 for visiting Lin to drop off a birthday present.
- $47.50 for a phone call on Thanksgiving.
Diana Kretzschmar is a well-known community advocate for seniors in Clark County.
where are these fees going? Legal fees, administrative fees,
guardianship fees. Fees, fees, fees….My radar goes up," said
Against McDowell's will the guardian also sold her
home. She also moved McDowell into a swanky retirement complex where the
monthly rent -- $3,500 – was more than her client's estate could
sustain. That rent was more than three times the amount of the mortgage
McDowell was paying on her home.
"I think the thing that disturbs
me the most is that she was under a guardianship, and she was supposed
to be protected by people who had her best interests at heart, and who
were being paid to have her best interests at heart. To have this happen
under legal circumstances, there are no words for that," said Tiffany
Couch, a forensic accountant working pro-bono for McDowell as she seeks
answers to what happened to her savings.
A second guardian billed McDowell in a way no professional KING 5 consulted has ever heard of -- by the second.
Records show the guardian appeared to charge her client every time she left a voicemail for McDowell or touched a piece of mail.
doesn't look to me as if we're in the business to care for people. This
looks to me like if I pick up a piece of paper and I'm billing it by
the second or every 30 seconds, I'm in it for the money," said Couch.
guardians in this case wouldn't agree to an interview with KING 5. But
in court filings they wrote that the case had a "contentious nature"
from the start and that the guardianship was "complicated by information
received from Ms. McDowell."
In addition, a guardian wrote that
McDowell had personal and professional relationships with outsiders that
"created unnecessary confusion" and "increased work for the Guardians."
Asked if McDowell was served well in the guardianship, one of the professionals responded: "absolutely."
care experts say we'll see a lot more "Lin McDowell's" as more and more
Baby Boomers age into their 70s, 80s and beyond. One problem the
experts identify is that in Washington state, there is very little
oversight of professional guardianships. Judges authorize a guardian's
actions, but advocates say no one is taking a hard look at the where the
"There's no real reconciliation or oversight over these billings. (It's a) rubber stamp," said Couch.
Adding salt to the wound, it's quite possible Lin McDowell never should have been in a guardianship in the first place.
September 2014, a court appointed investigator found McDowell "has
demonstrated remarkable independence with regard to her daily living
activities." The investigator also wrote, "There is no need to continue
the … guardianships."
The investigator relied on the input of
medical professionals working with McDowell who found she is not an
"(McDowell) has been labeled with
dementia by her caretakers and the court. Ms. McDowell was seen by the
undersigned (doctor) for eleven one-hour sessions and her level of
functioning was never impaired."
After that detailed report, a judge terminated the guardianship on September 26, 2014.
her 29 months of living under a court-appointed guardian who oversaw
every aspect of her life, McDowell said she experienced extreme
depression and at times lost the will to live.
"(It was) almost too tough. Almost too hard to get up. Almost too hard to keep pushing," said McDowell.
McDowell back in charge of her own life, the guardian issued her a
check in September for the remaining balance of her life savings:
"I've got (my dog) Sam, that's it. I've got Sam and enough money to, well, I've already paid my rent here for the month."
are the people who have built this nation on their back and don't they
deserve at least safety and security as they age? Don't they deserve a
voice?" said Kretschmar.
It's unclear if there is any financial recourse for Lin McDowell. She has professionals working pro-bono to explore options.
KING 5 Investigators have been in communication with lawmakers working
on legislation to tighten up loopholes in the professional guardianship
process. State Sen. Ann Rivers (R-Vancouver) has introduced a bill that
would hold guardians more accountable in the state.
leads the way in a lot of things like the health exchange and marijuana.
Why can't we be a model for how we treat seniors?" said Rivers.
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Senior citizen says guardianship left her 'absolutely broke'