Guardianships. It’s a subject many of us will face at one time or another when someone needs special care. It could be your mom or dad, sister, brother, or any loved one.
By definition, adult guardianship is a process by which a state court appoints an individual to care for the well-being, and possibly finances, of another person who is unable to care for him or herself. Guardians can be family members, friends, or non-related professionals appointed by a judge. There are an estimated 1.3 million adult guardianship cases across the country.
And for someone in need, not having a guardian can increase the risk of abuse, neglect, and financial exploitation.
Most states fund a system that offers public guardians who work on a volunteer basis for people in need.
Lake County Judge Diane Kavadias Schneider has said there are private guardians who do good work, but she also notes that with few alternatives on the market, exploitation has become increasingly common.
Critics of Indiana’s volunteer program say the job is too complex and grants too much power to give to unpaid strangers. While there is some training, mandatory nationwide standards for guardianships don’t exist, and some argue it’s risky to use volunteers in such an unregulated system.
For decades, court record-keeping on guardianship cases has been dismal in many states.
That's slowly changing in Indiana, thanks to a registry pushed by the same people who started the volunteer program, which has been adopted by about half the counties in the state. But nationally, no one seems to know how big the need for guardians is, just that it’s growing every day.
AARP is one organization that has long fought for state laws to protect older individuals and their assets from abuse and to make sure guardians — public, private, and family caregivers —have the information they need to do their job. Over the past 4 years alone, AARP State Offices across the country have supported passage of more than 45 guardianship-specific laws to address this serious issue.
But AARP believes more needs to be done, including clamping down on the bad actors by increasing court monitoring, oversight, and training of guardians, and mechanisms to follow up with protected individuals. Specifically, AARP believes reforms must emphasize, at minimum:
- The Individual: Every individual has different needs and preferences. State laws should emphasize individualized guardianship plans and require courts to order less restrictive options for individuals who are capable of making their own decisions.
- The Guardian: State laws must spell out the duties and responsibilities of a guardian, providing a standard for decision-making focused on the expectations of the person under guardianship, and outline standards of practice and training requirements. It also must provide a detailed procedure for getting rid of bad actors.
- The Courts: State laws should guide judges to use the least restrictive option available when considering cases for guardianship, including supported decision making, and focus on court oversight and monitoring to help prevent abuse and exploitation.
Sadly, a large amount of guardianship abuse actually happens in nursing homes or other critical care facilities. The attorneys at Theodoros & Rooth take these cases very seriously. If you believe you have a case of guardianship abuse in a care facility or elsewhere, tell us about it. We will make a determination regarding the validity of your claim and will be prepared to represent you aggressively until justice is served.
For now, if you suspect abuse of a protected individual by a guardian, here’s how to get help:
- People who witness any form of abuse should call 911.
- A state-by-state list of places to report elder abuse is available on the U.S. Administration on Aging’s National Center on Elder Abuse website, ncea.aoa.gov, or by calling 800-677-1116.
Sources: AARP, Associated Press, Various news outlets