Elder abuse: Do we need better protection against court-appointed guardians? – FindLaw

A care worker abuses an elderly man

Netflix’s hit movie “I Care a Lot” tells a miserable tale of a sinister hustler who enriches herself by hurting elders.

Ice villain, Marla Grayson (played brilliantly by Rosamund Pike), is a court-appointed legal guardian for the elderly. She’s built a bustling, thriving agency that’s supposed to help seniors in the fall of their lives, but reality isn’t something noble. The movie shows early on that Marla is a fraudulent artist who only cares about her elderly “clients” is the amount of money and the number of assets she can extract from them.

Her method is simple: she bribes a doctor to say that an elderly patient is invalid, and then she seeks the help of a judge to appoint her as a trustee for the elderly. Just like that, Marla is free to put her clients in nursing homes. Once they do, they have complete control over their lives, including drying up their bank accounts and selling their possessions.

Guardian abuse in real life

It is a disturbing anecdote for sure. But hey, it’s just a movie, isn’t it?


The scary part of “I Care Too Much” is that – at least in many states – this kind of court-sanctioned elder abuse is real.

Certainly, most court-appointed guardians properly protect the people under their care. But legal authorities cite it as a large system – 1.3 million adults sponsored by guardians who control $ 50 billion of their assets – with little oversight, protection, or transparency.

The extent of guardian abuse is unknown, but informed authorities say it is a problem. In an article on The hillLaw professors Nina A. Kuhn and David M. Englishmen say reports of abuse like the ones portrayed in the movie are all very common. And this, they say, is because our laws are so weak.

Firstly, State laws Allow courts to appoint “guardians in emergency situations,” who are not obligated to notify the elderly person, his family, or friends of their appointment. Although some states say individuals have the right to notify before consenting to a guardian, Cohen and the English say that courts often waive notice. They also say that guardians are routinely appointed without the case being present in court.

Second, the practice of guardians to immediately place their wards in nursing homes and sell their homes is generally legal.

Third, although the courts are supposed to supervise guardians, they often submit to guardians ’assurances that all is well and thus fail to spot wrongdoing.

Said Karen Buck, executive director of the Pennsylvania State Law Center Watchman: “It is the state that comes and robs your basic decisions, your basic right to self-government, and giving these decisions to another person may be completely alien to you. So it is a very strict procedure and it does not receive this much attention until a crisis and a scandal occurs.”

Small legislative payments

Although the film’s writer and director J Blakeson says he developed the script based on multiple media accounts of the abuse of elderly guardians, the story of one of the more elegant guardians is similar to Marla’s fairy tale for the movie. In 2018, a Nevada legal guardian was named April Gardens Pleaded guilty to six criminal charges, including charges of exploiting the elderly, that led to her imprisonment from 16 to 40 years. Like Marla, Parks obtained leads from the medical staff, obtained emergency orders from the courts, and appeared without warning in the homes of her victims to ask them to pack their bags for their new home, which is a living facility.

Stories like this prompted the US Senate Senate Senate Committee to call for guardianship reform in 2018, but much of it has not been achieved. The commission issued a Transfer Which urged states to pass legislation that includes specific measures such as requiring stricter guardianship oversight and greater protection for individuals under guardianship. But only two countries, Maine and Washington, have adopted them.

Meanwhile, the Uniform Law Commission has adopted Model legislation Legislators could consider it if they were considering better protection for their elderly citizens from unscrupulous guardians. But if the past is evidence, most lawmakers do not make guardianship reform a top priority on their to-do lists.

What you can do

Aside from laws and regulations, there are things individuals can do or consider if they want better protection for older family members or friends.

The National Center for Law and the Rights of the Elderly (NCLER) indicates that courts in all states maintain supervisory power over guardians. So if you suspect abuse, you may be able to petition for judicial action. Some states even have complaints procedures.

This means you may have to do some investigations yourself, and NCLER provides some instructions on how to do this:

  • Carry out investigations. Does the elderly know the guardian and trust him? Is their medical and personal care sufficient? Does the guardian pay the bills? Are there transactions that look strange?
  • Review documents and accounts. Court documents can be difficult to obtain, which can only be sealed and displayed by the parties to the case. However, you may be able to petition the court to review the documents, which may reveal that the trustee is exceeding their authority.
  • Report to law enforcement or other authorities. A guardian’s breach of their fiduciary duty may violate federal, state or local laws regarding elder abuse or financial fraud. In a growing number of states there are licensing boards that include guardians; If you suspect abuse, reporting these boards might be a smart move. Also, some trustees act as payments to SSA Benefits Administration Social Security Representatives or Veterans Administration Agents to administer VA benefits, so you can contact these agencies if you suspect abuse.

Most of the court-appointed guardians do their jobs properly and keep the interests of their guardians in mind. Apparently, although many do not. Rightly or wrongly, if you suspect a family member or friend is being abused by a guardian, you may be tasked with obtaining at least initial answers.

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