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Article Spotlights Abuses in the Guardianship System

  • December 22nd, 2003

The guardianship system in America is "rife with opportunities for financial exploitation, medical neglect, and the wrongful usurping of a competent person's freedom," according to an article in AARP Magazine.

If an adult becomes incapable of making responsible decisions due to a mental disability, the court will appoint a substitute decision maker, often called a "guardian," but in some states called a "conservator" or other term. The guardian is authorized to make legal, financial, and health care decisions for the ward (the person placed under guardianship).

While the system often works, sometimes it backfires, leaving its victims worse off than before. Many guardianships, according to the article, are based solely on flimsy evidence, often without methodical court hearings to determine the scope of the subject's competence. Relatives seeking to gain control of an elder's assets are the most common offenders. Conservators and guardians '“ some of whom are greedy professionals -- can siphon large sums from the bank accounts of the very people they are supposed to be protecting.

Many experts believe that abuse of the guardianship system is rampant. The article quotes Robert L. Aldridge, a Boise, Idaho, elder law attorney and a member of ElderLawAnswers' network of qualified elder law attorneys. Aldridge, who testified recently on guardianship before Congress, reviewed 250 guardianships on behalf of the state bar association and Idaho court system, uncovering more than 50 with "egregious" problems.

"These are not isolated, occasional blips," Aldridge says. "This constitutes a significant portion of the cases out there. They were flat-out rip-off situations."

The article focuses on the plight of an elderly San Francisco couple who were placed against their will under the care of professional conservators who billed them $90 an hour for their services. The couple couldn't even hire their own lawyer to fight the takeover of their lives.

The article includes several sidebars, including one on "How to Avoid Guardianship."

To read the AARP Magazine article, "Stolen Lives," click here.

For more on guardianship, click here.

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Last Modified: 12/22/2003

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