Guardianships may enter the lives of senior citizens who, due to health, senility or dementia issues, may no longer be able to make decisions regarding their personal or financial affairs on their own. Guardianships may be necessary if the person has no legal documents in place to appoint someone to handle their affairs should they no longer be able to. But a 2006 study by AARP and the American Bar Association (ABA) Commission on Law and Aging concluded that many courts are doing a poor job of monitoring guardians to prevent elder abuse or financial exploitation of those placed under guardianship.
As a follow up to that study, in 2010, the Federal Government Accountability Office, known as the GAO, published a report entitled “Guardianships: Cases of Financial Exploitation, Neglect, and Abuse of Seniors.” For this report, the GAO was asked specifically to:
(1) verify whether allegations of abuse by guardians are widespread;
(2) examine the facts in selected closed cases; and
(3) proactively test state guardian certification processes.
Their conclusions highlight the need for proper planning to avoid the court process of guardianship by having both an incapacitation and estate plan in place. Their findings include:
- In 6 of 20 reviewed cases, the courts failed to adequately screen potential guardians, appointing individuals with criminal convictions or significant financial problems to manage high-dollar estates.
- In 12 of 20 cases, the courts failed to oversee guardians once they were appointed, allowing the abuse of vulnerable seniors and their assets to continue.
- In 11 of 20 cases, courts and federal agencies did not communicate effectively, or at all, with each other about abusive guardians, allowing the guardian to continue the abuse of the victim and/or others.
With proper planning, you can avoid guardianship proceedings in the event of health or age issues. Work with an estate planning attorney to put together a comprehensive plan that can not only handle the distribution of your property upon your death, but one that can address issues such as incapacitation or a sudden disability.