Sunday, January 6, 2019

From The Silver Standard’s Elder Abuse Reform Now Project: WHO WILL BE YOUR GUARDIAN?

By Marcia Southwick, NASGA

At last, the abuses within the guardianship system are beginning to come to light!  The mistreatment of elders whose dignity is stripped by removal of rights is tragic and, in this country, it is happening in epidemic proportion.

Nearly every week now, new articles are appearing about professional guardians who financially abuse the people they are supposed to protect.  Both The New Yorker and The New York Times have done excellent articles—we hope other News outlets, especially TV, with 24 hours of air time each day and the myriad talk shows, will follow their lead. This is a subject, and Financial Elder Abuse, which is often achieved through the use of guardianship, must be at the top of the list of subjects that are unquestionably “in the public interest”.

No Adult is more vulnerable than a person held in guardianship. Their entire right to be heard or to fight back has been eradicated by the court. Under current law in many states, a protected person is denied the right to enter into a contract with another person or business, leaving them unable to engage a lawyer to help them seek protection. With a “court-crony” guardian appointed to act "in your best interest," rather than a lawyer of your own choosing by your side, aren't you a sitting duck if something goes wrong? The answer is a resounding YES. What if the guardian assigned to you is a person whose only interest is in exploiting those under his or her control?
In 2013, AARP stated that it's "best guess" estimate was that there were 1.5 million American adults under guardianship—You can be sure that number is much larger in 2019.
The public is beginning to see how dangerous this system of protection can be. Leaving innocent people vulnerable to abuse is inexcusable. What if your guardian isn't a cruel greedy person, just lazy or not very bright? The potential is always there for exploitation of an elder's estate simply by lack of oversight.

No one is looking over the shoulders of these "professionals" who the courts put in control of people’s assets and life altering decisions. Families frequently walk into this situation unintentionally by going to court, thinking that they'll get help for their elder loved one during family conflict.  But once the door closes behind a guardianship proceeding, anything can happen, leaving lives broken and scattered.

The public really has no understanding of the nature of these proceedings--they can, and frequently do, happen without witnesses or testimony—except the testimony of a lawyer who stands to make money if the guardianship is put in place. The guardians charge ridiculous fees ($100 to open the mail) and spend like there is no tomorrow. The elder's assets can be easily depleted by professionals without accountability, a problem that has turned this cottage industry into a shameful money grab. In New Mexico, researchers are just beginning to go through court records to figure out just how many guardianships there really are in that state. There are no systematic, central records.  Can you imagine? Guardians and conservators are let loose with people's money and entire lives without having a degree in finance or any special training in investments or healthcare. In fact, in many states, according to the Center for State Courts, there are no statutes that require real training, and only 13 states require criminal background checks. See

Frequently the judge will not insist that a guardian account for every penny of the ward’s money spent. The guardians just keeps spending and charging and spending and charging.
Idaho and Minnesota are the only states keeping track of the money that is under the control of guardians or conservators; The combined total is over $1 billion. It is frightening to think how much it is nation wide.
Theoretically (and something like this actually happened to someone I know) you (the ward) might be a PhD who needs a little help, yet you could end up under the thumb of a college dropout with only the assurnce that he or she isn't a convicted felon to protect you. (How would they know if the courts don't perform criminal background checks?) My friend wasn't allowed to look at his own bank statements, even though he was in the business of finance, and, in two years, the guardianship fees and expenses added up to approximately $2 million. Think about it—that's $2,700 a day!  What about the qualifications of those who are handling this money? They were less qualified than he. Instead of being restricted to his house with aides watching his every move and monitoring anyone who visited, he could have been living at the Ritz with room service and fresh sheets every day!  The absurdity of this situation—and it exists in many of these guardianship cases.
Here is one of many cases that breaks my heart.  Every so often, I post a video of New Yorker Dorothy Wilson, in her 80's, trapped by her guardian in a nursing home. The post has gone viral, with over 60,000 views and hundreds of comments expressing sympathy.  She looks directly into the camera and describes her plight as she becomes more and more upset. At the end, she is weeping and begging to go home. Why should an elderly person be removed from her own home by a court professional and thrown into a nursing home she hates?  Dorothy wasn't allowed to leave the facility to see her family. Instead, she was forced to eat Thanksgiving in the dining room, nearly empty because nursing home residents who are not wards of a guardian are perfectly free to spend as much time as they wish to spend with friends and family. Elders in guardianship, by contrast, are often isolated and restricted from all but very limited access to family. Even a Power of Attorney without a guardian can cause a person to lose much of their independence (see note) Dorothy died within three months of forced placement by the guardian.

Dorothy ended up in guardianship due to a family conflict. Her daughter Diane, describes the shock of finding out that a professional guardian has complete and final control over every aspect of her mother's life.  "On August 22, 2011, the guardian, Mary Giordano, along with a caseworker in Plainview, NY, went to my mother’s house and told her they were taking her to the hospital for a problem she had with her recent surgery. That is the only reason she willingly got in the car. Instead, they took her to Meadowbrook Care Nursing Home in Freeport, a sub-standard nursing home with substantiated reports of abuse, and registered her there as a resident. This location isolated Mom from her family, friends,and healthcare providers."  So many seniors don’t know the guardian and the court has prohibited family and friends from visiting. So, they sit all alone in a strange place, their life slipping by, and wondering why their family has abandoned them.

Listen to Dorothy Wilson’s pleas for help at the end of this video and you will weep to see what it is like to be under a guardianship with no control over your life. She feels as if she's in prison without having committed a crime. (In another video, she says that precisely).

If Dorothy isn't an example of someone who has been abused by this system, no one is.  Something needs to be done for people in this situation, and it needs to be done now!  10,000 Baby Boomers turn 65 every day and every one of them has a target on their back—With a lifetime of hard-earned savings and insurance to plunder, they have exactly what these for-profit professionals want: they only have to ensnare them in the benevolent net of “just wanting to help" or " just wanting to do what's in their best interest". If you are a baby boomer, be aware that you too can easily become a far lesser version of the person you are at this moment—a person with rights to come and go freely, a person entitled to spend your own money as you wish, and a person with the power to live where you want and see who you want.

Educate your children about what family conflict could do to you and their future. Judges have a way of saying, "I don't go out looking for people to put into guardianship. The cases come to ME."  They've got a point—so, for now, the only REAL remedy for Boomers is to stay out of court if at all possible.

Full Article  & Source:
From The Silver Standard’s Elder Abuse Reform Now Project:  WHO WILL BE YOUR GUARDIAN?

1 comment:

Charlie Lyons said...

It's like rolling the dice in a game of craps.