“Your local elder law attorney can help you protect yourself and your loved ones from having to settle for a court-appointed total stranger as guardian.”
When an older adult loses the ability to take care of himself, make or communicate decisions, or handle his financial matters, someone must step in and help him, so he does not suffer neglect or abuse. What happens when an elderly person becomes incapacitated will depend on whether he has family to help or has legally arranged for someone to manage his care. When a senior has no family members nearby who are able or willing to help, sometimes the courts must get involved.
The Problem with Court-Appointed Guardians
Many court-appointed guardians are dedicated professionals who carry out their duty honorably, but some perpetrate what advocates for the elderly call “elder abuse” of epidemic proportions. Depending on the actual wording of the court order, a guardian can have relatively unfettered control over the life savings and home of the senior. If the elderly person raises suspicions of mismanagement of her funds, people usually disregard the concerns because of her diminished cognitive abilities.
There is little oversight of guardians. Even if they file accountings with the court, those documents are rarely verified for accuracy or truthfulness. The so-called accounting could be a work of fiction. A guardian can sell a person’s home, tap into the bank account and no one will ever know. When the senior who has no close family dies, an unscrupulous guardian can keep assets illegally appropriated, and no one will question the actions taken.
Besides better oversight, elder-care experts advocate for stricter requirements for people seeking to serve as guardians. One gerontology specialist complained that it is harder to become a hairdresser in most states than to qualify as a guardian. There is no comprehensive database that maintains information about guardians, so tracking the “bad apples” is impossible.
Guardians are supposed to manage a person’s care, finances and even medical care, depending on the court order. Some states have reported guardian-to-ward ratios of 1-to-40. In one abuse case, a guardian had about 400 wards. Imagine the public outrage if one person was trying to raise 40 children, much less 400 – yet there is little societal concern about our vulnerable elderly, who are depending on the very people who take their money.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones from Unscrupulous Guardians
Arrange now, before you (or a loved one) become incapacitated, so you will not be left with a court-appointed guardian, who is a total stranger. Prepare a durable power of attorney to appoint someone to act as your representative and decide about your care and financial matters, if you cannot do so. While you are at it, execute a medical power of attorney and appoint someone to medically decide for you, if you cannot do so.
Give your doctor and bank these documents, so they can raise any objections, while you can make changes. Some financial institutions want you to use their forms. Regardless what your state law says, some banks will object to a power of attorney that is more than a few years old, so redo the documents every few years to cover yourself.
Your local elder law attorney can help you protect yourself and your loved ones from having to settle for a court-appointed total stranger as guardian. Your state laws might differ from the general law in this article, so talk with an elder law attorney in your area.
Huffpost. “The System of Court-Appointed Guardians Continues to Fail the Elderly.” (accessed July 19, 2018) https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/court-appointed-guardian-system-failing-elderly_us_59d3f70be4b06226e3f44d4e