Simply put, many older folks do not have any family, or at least any family that cares about them, to step up and take care of their basic personal, health care and financial needs.
Consequently, courts are left with appointing "professionals" to step in.
This does not always end well.
This issue caught the eye of the Wall Street Journal, as reported in a recent article titled "Abuses Plague Guardianship Systems Across the Country.”
According to the article, guardianship systems nationwide are plagued with allegations of financial exploitation and abuse.
And this despite reform efforts.
Apparently the guardianship systems primary success seems to be generating billings for the professional guardians themselves.
“These laws which were designed to protect the vulnerable are being used against them to exploit them,” noted Dr. Sam Sugar.
He is the founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, an advocacy group.
Because guardianship systems vary by state and county, and record-keeping systems are inconsistent, precise data on a national level is not available.
That is a lot of dinero by any count.
The concerns surrounding guardianship abuse are getting more traction now, especially since 10,000 baby boomers reach age 65 each day.
Did you know the U.S. Census estimates that aging baby boomers will cause the senior population to nearly double by 2050?
In some parts of the country this wave is reaching the shore already.
In New Jersey, for example, the number of adult guardianships increased 21% from 2009 to 2014, to 2,689 cases.
Guardians who have proper judicial oversight generally do a laudable service, protecting their elderly wards from exploitation by acquaintances and others, the article observed.
What are the worst cases?
When there is no guardian at all.
How are expenses paid?
The expenses that are a part of a guardianship typically get paid from the ward’s assets.
Think legal fees for the legal representation of both guardians and wards.
What if the ward has no assets?
Some jurisdictions have a "public" guardian’s office that handles cases for indigent clients.
Unfortunately, this "public trough" financial arrangement can encourage abuse of the system by some lawyers and guardians to perpetuate guardianships indefinitely.
For assistance with guardianship concerns, I recommend that you consult an experienced elder law attorney near you (or your loved one) who is a member of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys.
Remember: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” When making your financial, tax and estate plans, do not go it alone. Be sure to engage competent professional counsel.
For more information about estate planning in Overland Park, KS (and throughout the rest of Kansas and Missouri), visit our estate planning website and be sure to subscribe to our complimentary estate planning e-newsletter while you are there.
Reference: Wall Street Journal (October 30, 2015) “Abuses Plague Guardianship Systems Across the Country”