can take a wide variety of forms, but I think the worst of the worst is caused
by unscrupulous adult guardians appointed by a court to care for seniors who
are no longer able to care for themselves. And though you may not want to
believe such a thing could happen, you need to know that without the right
planning in place, even the seniors in your own family could be at risk.
In fact, there are currently 1.5 million American adults under guardianship, with an estimated 85% of them over age 65. All told, these guardians control nearly $273 billion in assets. And 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.
Exploitation disguised as protection
Although most of the reported abuse was committed by family members, an increasing number of elder abuse cases involve professional guardians.
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.
What’s more, though it’s possible for a guardianship to 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. And 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.
door for potential abuse
Obviously, not all professional guardians exploit the seniors (known as wards) placed under their care. But 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.
Facing these facts, it’s critical for both seniors and their adult children to take proactive measures to prevent the possibility of such abuse. Fortunately, there are multiple estate planning tools that can dramatically reduce the chances of you, or your elderly loved ones, being placed under the care of a professional guardian against your/their wishes.
What’s more, because any adult could face court-ordered guardianship if they become incapacitated by illness or injury, it’s crucial that every person over age 18—not just seniors—have planning vehicles in place to prepare for their potential incapacity.
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. And it’s this lack of planning that leaves
you vulnerable. In most cases, the court would appoint a family member as
guardian, but this isn’t always the case.
If you have no living family members, or those you do have are unwilling or unable to serve or deemed unsuitable by the court, a professional guardian would be appointed. And in certain cases, particularly when your family doesn’t live close by, guardianship can be granted without your loved ones—or even you—being aware of it.
loss of autonomy
Once you’ve been placed under court-ordered guardianship, you essentially lose all your civil rights. Indeed, whether it’s a family member or a professional, guardians have complete legal authority to control every facet of your life.
Given the extreme power guardianship affords, courts
are supposed to exercise tight oversight over adult guardians, yet the reality
is that only cursory supervision is provided. What’s more, courts often don’t
even keep complete records of guardianship cases, and those that do typically
keep those records sealed from public view.
With no real system in place to prevent abuse by professional guardians, it’s up to you to protect yourself and your elderly parents through proactive estate planning.
Dedicated to empowering your family, building your wealth and defining your legacy,