JLARC told lawmakers that the legislature should consider these shortcomings, and add in safeguards such as a visitation requirement for private guardians and required training. The state also needs a centralized system for complaints, they said.

The study was commissioned by lawmakers in 2020 after The Times-Dispatch’s published an investigation by former Times-Dispatch reporter Bridget Balch. Del. Danica Roem, D-Prince William, and Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, proposed the study during the 2020 session.

JLARC also found that guardians have “too much discretion” to limit family and friends from contacting and interacting with the adult under their care without justification. This practice, they said, could open the door to abuse and neglect. Loved ones who want to be involved in caring for an incapacitated adult may have trouble navigating the legal system to fight the decision of the guardian.

Lawmakers should make it more difficult for guardians to restrict visits, including by requiring specific details as to why a restriction is necessary, JLARC said.

The only requirement on guardians is an annual report that includes an update on the well-being of the person under their care, including their physical, mental and emotional condition.

“We reviewed many of these reports. ... Oftentimes, the guardian would provide a one-word answer to each such as ‘good,’” said Joe McMahon, who led JLARC’s study. The report, they said, should include more detail that could be useful to the court or anyone interested.

JLARC also asked lawmakers to consider requiring the courts to review guardianship cases periodically, arguing that sometimes incapacitated people can recover and regain their autonomy. Most guardianship cases now are effectively permanent.