Guards for guardians?

Now this is an interesting article, our government set up guardians for the people getting along in age to help them transfer, if or when necessary, to a place of comfort in their retiring years.

Now many of these same people (guardians) are abusing the elderly anyway possible just to get at their money!

There are, sadly, all too many ways to exploit the elderly, from complex investment scams to simple theft. That is one big reason guardianship laws were created — to protect a vulnerable population. But a recent series of articles by our sister paper, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, exposed the reality that guardianships themselves sometimes become a form of abuse, draining elders’ crucial financial assets in the twilight years.

Though such cases don’t represent the majority of guardianships, there are enough troubling examples to reveal a system needing reforms. Steps should be pursued that would reduce escalating legal costs, strengthen independent oversight, resolve family conflicts before they get to court, and — when feasible — choose protections that are less invasive than full guardianship.

As the Herald-Tribune reported, Florida’s guardianship statute “is considered one of the best in the world, but its practical application has been criticized by advocacy groups and elder law scholars as paternalistic, ruthless and even corrupt.”

The series focused on cases in which elders were swept (often with little or no warning) into a court system that deemed them “incapacitated,” taking away their opportunity to control their own lives. Their assets were sold off or depleted in order to pay for care, nursing homes, attorneys’ fees and such, services that are often necessary when people present a danger to themselves or others. Yet there is a risk that less charitable motives, such as gaining income from the ward’s assets, can enter into the push for guardianship.

It would be unfair, of course, to paint the entire guardianship system with the sins of a few cases. They can be painfully difficult for courts to sort out, because of conflicting evidence, family feuds, and ambiguity concerning a ward’s true mental state.

Yet it is prudent to recognize the potential for greed to warp the process. At stake are not only human rights but also assets acquired over a lifetime.

The more litigious a guardianship dispute, the more it is likely to drain a person’s assets — which must, after all, last until death. Thus, cost containment is integral to guardianship reform.

Legislation filed last month by state Rep. Kathleen C. Passidomo, R-Naples, would address some key complaints about guardianships. For example, it would toughen notification requirements, so that potential wards aren’t blindsided by hearings that could greatly affect them. It also would add a section specifying that “a guardian may not abuse, neglect, or exploit the ward.”

A number of national boards and task forces have repeatedly studied the issue of elderly exploitation. Among their recommendations are exploring the greater use of mediators and recruiting and training volunteer advocates, who could monitor guardianship cases with greater independence and frequency.

This subject is complex and painful. But the process can and should be improved.

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