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Outrageous! New Report Sheds Light on Elder Abuse by Guardians

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Could you as a senior suddenly find yourself removed from your home, forced into institutional care, and placed under the complete control of a stranger? In some instances, the shocking answer is yes – such an unthinkable outcome could actually happen.

A pair of very recent articles has shed important light on the shameful reality of elder abuse across the U.S., abuse that is perpetrated with the tacit consent of the authorities by court-appointed guardians. The first article, this long and damning report from the October 9, 2017 issue of New Yorker magazine, made our blood boil. It’s called “How the Elderly Lose Their Rights,” and it tells the tale of a couple from Las Vegas, living independently, who in one shocking day found themselves in the clutches of a court-appointed guardian. In this couple’s case, it took two years of legal battles by their adult daughter and others before their freedom was restored, during which time their health had deteriorated and their finances had been decimated. Eventually the guardian in this couple’s case was indicted for perjury and theft.

How could such an outrage take place, under the so-called watchful eye of the court system? To help answer that question, we turned to this follow-up article, written in response to the New Yorker exposé, that appeared on the website of Reuters news service. Reuters reporter Mark Miller asks, “Are unsuspecting seniors around the United States being scooped up without warning from their homes, placed in nursing homes and having their possessions taken away? Sometimes, yes.” Miller calls the New Yorker article “a frightening portrait of a private guardian who was able to obtain a court order” giving her complete control over a couple, with no advance notice. “The abuses of private-guardian systems in some U.S. states have been on the radar screens of policy and legal experts for years,” adds Miller. “When I circulated the article to readers recently, the questions started coming in about guardianship. How pervasive are the problems around the United States? Could this happen to me? What steps can I take to protect myself from this kind of abuse? Good questions, all.”

In order to comprehend what’s going on, some definitions are in order. Mark Miller, in the Reuters article, says, “Guardianships are a legal relationship created by state courts that give one person the authority to make decisions in the best interest of someone judged to be incapacitated – and when no family member or friend is available to assume the role.” He explains that a public guardian is generally appointed when the so-called incapacitated person has no resources, but private guardians are typically assigned when people have financial assets. The New Yorker article makes it plain that some unscrupulous guardians actively search out elderly prospects, often infirm or alone and with money in the bank, in order to gain control of the unsuspecting senior’s life and line the guardian’s own pockets.

Mark Miller’s article explains how the system is supposed to work. “Two legal requirements must be met before a court appoints a guardian,” he writes. “First, there must be a finding of incapacity. But there must also be a court decision that there is a need for a guardian – that is, no one has already been designated by the alleged incapacitated person to act as their agent or trustee before they became disabled.” According to Reuters, national data on the number of seniors living under the care of a guardian is very limited. “But,” says Miller, “a 2010 report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified hundreds of allegations of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by guardians in 45 states and the District of Columbia between 1990 and 2010.” In 20 cases reviewed by the GAO, guardians were found to have “stolen or otherwise improperly obtained $5.4 million from 158 incapacitated victims, mostly older adults.”

Even though many cases of guardianship are both honest and necessary, and the actual number of abuse cases is relatively rare, the problem is only going to increase as the population ages unless something is done. In the words of Mark Miller in Reuters, “Systematic reform will require commitment by the states to use more care in the selection, training and monitoring of guardians.” This will include much more thoughtful oversight and accountability of guardians, and an end to the complacency of the courts in cases where a single guardian is assigned control of hundreds of people, as was the case in the Nevada scandal described in New Yorker.

So given this frightening prospect of ending up under the control of a guardian, how can you protect yourself? This is absolutely where AgingOptions steps into the picture. Miller advises people to “Be honest about the risks, and the need to plan in advance. Whenever possible execute legal Power of Attorney documents for your finances and healthcare. In other words – have a succession plan, not just for inheritance, but for your care needs while you are still alive.” We urge you to take Miller’s advice – and ours – and talk with a trusted advisor soon in order to ensure that your assets will be protected in retirement, and you can avoid being forced into institutional care against your will.

An AgingOptions LifePlan is a strong guarantee that your wishes are more likely to be respected.  As Rajiv Nagaich says, “Guardianships are mostly avoidable.  It’s only when there has been no planning ahead of time and no Power of Attorney in place that a guardianship generally becomes necessary.  Guardianships also become important when an agent who is appointed under a Power of Attorney arrangement becomes domineering and refuses to allow transparency.” Rajiv adds, “By planning ahead, including establishing requirements for transparency and providing the proper resources so that no agent is working alone, we can literally make most of these issues go away.” We invite you to take action now by joining Rajiv Nagaich at a free LifePlanning Seminar where critically important issues like these will be discussed, along with other vital aspects of retirement that involve your financial, legal, housing, medical and family plans. You can find all the seminar details here, including times, dates, and locations, then register online or contact us by phone.

The article in Reuters ends with this powerful quote from elder law professor Katherine Pearson at Penn State University. “In an ideal world,” Pearson says, “no one would need guardianship because you already have planned for your needs while recognizing the potential that you could need help.”  We say a loud “Amen!” to that! Come join us soon at a LifePlanning Seminar near you and discover the path to a secure retirement.

(originally reported at and


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