Jul 30, 2012

How To Protect Yourself from Court-Ordered Guardianship (and the occasional bad apple guardian)

Becoming incapacitated and unable to manage one's own affairs is an unnerving prospect. Having the court appoint a guardian for you adds insult to injury.  No one wants the state mucking around in his personal affairs and finances.

There's yet another reason to be wary of court-ordered guardianship: Not every guardian is going to do a good job. While the vast majority of court-appointed guardians are hardworking and have their charge's best interest at heart, there will always be some bad apples in the barrel. Consider this: In 2010 a  report by the U.S. Government Accountability Office identified many cases of physical abuse, financial exploitation and neglect by guardians nationwide. The report revealed many cases in which the courts failed to adequately screen guardians, or did not properly supervise them after their appointment. Focusing in on 158 incapacitated victims, many of them seniors, the study found a total of $5.4 million had been stolen, as well as many instances of physical abuse and neglect.

Our aging population is putting increasing pressure on the courts' resources, making it more difficult to provide oversight of court-appointed guardians. Naturally, this gives the bad apples a better chance of slipping in under the radar.

You can take steps to protect yourself from becoming the subject of a court-appointed guardianship. By taking proactive legal steps, you can be sure that someone you know and trust - not the courts - will be able to step into your shoes with as little disruption as possible.  Those legal steps range from creating a valid Durable Power of Attorney and Health Care Power of Attorney to naming a Pre-Need Guardian, to setting up a Trust and naming a successor trustee(s). 

The federal government is also attempting to address this growing problem. The Senate Judiciary Committee just green-lighted a new bill, SR1477. The Guardian Accountability and Senior Protection Act now heads to the Senate floor for consideration. It seeks to improve court monitoring and oversight in order to better protect seniors and other persons with disabilities from wrongdoing by court-appointed guardians. Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) introduced the bill, co-sponsored by four others, including Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). The American Bar Association, the AARP, and the National Guardianship Association are among the organizations supporting the proposed legislation.

If you want to discuss how to protect yourself from court-appointed guardianship in Florida, we're here to help! Call us toll-free at 800-893-9911.

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