The special report, "Unguarded: How the courts fail the vulnerable," reveals the findings of a Reading Eagle investigation that began 15 months ago.
Guardianship is the legal process of determining whether an adult has the capacity to make sound decisions and appointing a substitute called a guardian when they cannot. Judges can appoint a guardian to make decisions about the incapacitated individual, such as where they will live or the health care they'll receive, or to the estate, deciding how a ward's money will be spent.
Because of the loss of civil liberties, guardianship has always raised abuse concerns. And it's an area of growing concern with an aging population.
No good, reliable data exists on elder abuse, guardian caseloads or the number of adults in guardianship. Pennsylvania does not yet have a statewide data management system.
Because those 60 an older are most likely to be in a guardianship, and this demographic is expected to double in the next three decades, there is a growing concern over identifying and addressing guardian abuses.
Despite the widespread belief that judges more frequently appoint family members to serve as guardians, professionals are more likely to be tapped to take responsibility for those who are incapacitated, according to a Reading Eagle analysis of court dockets.
For example, 73 percent of the appointments in Philadelphia County in 2016 were held by at least one professional guardian.
While we hope you read each installment of the three-day series, we want to hear your stories, too.
If you or a loved one has had an experience with the guardian system in Pennsylvania, send your story and contact information to email@example.com.
And, join Reading Eagle Investigative Reporter Nicole Brambila and Photographer Susan Angstadt for a live Facebook discussion about the project on Monday at noon.
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Coming Sunday: An investigation into guardians of the vulnerable