Elderly adults across the country are losing their legal rights and finances to dishonest court-appointed guardians who are supposed to provide care.
Senior Abuse and Exploitation
The Government Accountability Office has found that state guardianship systems across the country are guilty of exploiting vulnerable seniors. Reports show hundreds of cases of elder neglect, physical abuse, and financial abuse by court-appointed guardians who are assigned to care for elderly adults in their homes. To protect these adults, the government is calling for court reforms for court-appointed legal guardians. The National Center for State Courts, a nonprofit organization, reports that court-appointed guardians in the U.S. supervise over one million elderly adults and oversee approximately $50 billion in assets.
Although state laws vary, in most states a legal guardian may be appointed by a court judge who rules that a person is cognitively impaired. Since the person becomes a ward of the state, by law the guardian can decide who is allowed to visit the home, when to move the elderly person into a nursing home, and when to sell the elder’s home without consulting friends and relatives.
In Nevada, an elderly man who suffered from dementia, diabetes, and other health issues was appointed a guardian in 2013 through a Clark County Court to care for the man in his Las Vegas home. When the guardian informed the man’s daughter in North Carolina that she could no longer care for him, the daughter traveled to Las Vegas to get him. When she arrived, the guardian refused to let her into the house, and the police were called. Police officers told the daughter that she would need to obtain legal guardianship to enter the home. During a two-year investigation, the daughter discovered that the guardian amassed thousands of dollars in gambling losses using her father’s money, and transferred $200,000 from her father’s bank account into her own account. At the time of the transfer, neurological tests showed that the elderly man was too cognitively impaired to know what he was signing. These offenses eventually lead to a criminal conviction for the legal guardian.
According to the Government Accountability Office, between 1990 and 2010 court-appointed guardians stole close to $5.4 million from elderly adults. In 2016, $600,000 was lost to elder exploitation. With millions of aging baby boomers now facing age-related health problems, these numbers are likely to rise.