A growing problem with adult guardianship abuse is causing calls to reform the system. Vulnerable elderly can get caught in the guardianship system, being harmed and exploited by the very process that is supposed to protect them.
A guardian is someone appointed by a court to make decisions on behalf of an incapacitated individual (“ward”). The guardianship process usually starts when a family member or social worker notifies the court that someone can’t take care of him- or herself. The court often appoints a family member as guardian. However, if the family can’t agree on a guardian or there is no family to act as guardian, the court may appoint a public guardian. Public guardians are supposedly neutral individuals who are hired to act in the ward’s best interest.
Unfortunately, in many states, the lack of court oversight combined with poorly trained guardians has led to reports of abuse. Once the court appoints a guardian, that guardian has complete control over the ward’s property and finances. Guardians can block family visits, determine where the ward will live, and sell property. In addition, guardians charge fees for their services that are payable from the elderly person’s bank account, which can cause corruption. When a senior gets caught up in the guardianship system, it can be very difficult to get out. There are many stories about seniors who are confused and overwhelmed after losing control of their lives to a guardian they don’t know.
If you think a loved one needs a guardian, consult with a qualified elder law attorney to determine the best steps.