Your own family could be at risk
Elder abuse can take a wide variety of forms. We think the worst of the worst is caused by unscrupulous adult guardians appointed by a court to care for seniors who can no longer care for themselves. You may not want to believe such a thing could happen. You need to know, though, that without the right planning in place, even you or other family members could be at risk.
Exploitation disguised as protection
There are currently 1.5 million American adults under guardianship. An estimated 85% of them are over age 65. The guardians of these adults control nearly $273-billion in assets. A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found hundreds of cases where guardians were involved in the abuse, exploitation, and neglect of seniors placed under their supervision.
Although most of the reported abuse was committed by family members, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involving professional guardians have recently made the headlines. The New Yorker exposed one of the most shocking accounts of elder abuse by professional guardians, and the abuse suffered by these victims is so horrendous, it’s hard to believe.
The case involved the owner of a Las Vegas guardianship agency, who was indicted on more than 200 felonies for using her guardianship status to swindle more than 150 seniors out of their life savings. The craziest part of this is that many of those seniors had loving and caring family members, who were unable to protect their senior family members.
That case and similar cases of criminal abuse by professional guardians across the country has shed light on a disturbing new phenomenon—individuals who seek guardianship to take control of the lives of vulnerable seniors and use their money and other assets for personal gain.
These predatory guardians search for seniors with a history of health issues, and they’re often able to obtain court-sanctioned guardianship with alarming ease. From there, they can force the elderly out of their homes and into assisted-living facilities and nursing homes. They can sell off their homes and other assets, keeping the proceeds for themselves. They can prevent them from seeing or speaking with their family members, leaving them isolated and even more vulnerable to exploitation.
Although guardianship can be terminated by the court if it can be proven that the need for guardianship no longer exists, a study by the American Bar Association (ABA) found that such attempts typically fail. Those family members who do try to fight against court-appointed guardians frequently end up paying hefty sums of money in attorney’s fees and court costs, with some even going bankrupt in the process.
An open door for potential abuse
Obviously, not all professional guardians exploit the seniors (known as wards) placed under their care. With the combination of the exploding elderly population—many of whom will require guardians—and our overloaded court system, such abuse will almost certainly become more common. Indeed, as the swelling aging population strains court resources, strict oversight of professional guardians is likely to become increasingly more difficult, enabling shady guardians to more easily slip through the cracks.
It is critical to take proactive measures to prevent the possibility of such abuse. Should you become incapacitated and not have the proper planning vehicles in place, your family would have to petition the court in order to be granted guardianship. Fortunately, there are multiple estate planning tools that can be used to avoid guardianship. In fact, every person over age 18—not just seniors—should have a plan in place to prepare for potential incapacity.
In our next blog, we’ll continue with part two in this series on how to avoid adult guardianship—and potential elder abuse—through proper estate planning.
As your Personal Family Lawyer®, we can guide you to make informed, educated, and empowered choices to protect yourself and the ones you love most. Contact us today to get started with a Family Wealth Planning Session.