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FLORIDA GUARDIANSHIP REFORM - IS IT ON THE WAY?

♠ Posted by Marc Soss in ,,,,, at Tuesday, November 03, 2015
For decades, states have granted courts the power to appoint guardians or conservators for elderly or disabled people unable to tend to their basic needs. Most appointed guardians are family members, but judges can turn to a growing industry of professional, unrelated guardians. Often the guardians are granted broad authority over a ward’s finances, medical care and living conditions. But guardianship systems across the country are plagued by allegations of financial exploitation and abuse, despite waves of reform efforts, according to a Wall Street Journal Page One story. As a result, critics say, many elderly people with significant assets become ensnared in a system that seems mainly to succeed at generating billings. “These laws which were designed to protect the vulnerable are being used against them to exploit them,” says Dr. Sam Sugar, founder of Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship, an advocacy group. Because guardianship systems vary by state and county and record-keeping systems are inconsistent, precise national data is unavailable. But the roughly 1.5 million adult guardianships in the U.S. involve an estimated $273 billion in assets, according to Anthony Palmieri, auditor for the guardianship fraud program in Palm Beach County, Fla. The problems are more urgent as aging baby boomers cause the population of seniors nearly to double by 2050, according to Census estimates. In New Jersey, the number of adult guardianships added annually increased 21% from 2009 to 2014, to 2,689 cases. Guardians properly supervised by courts typically do a good job protecting elderly people from exploitation by acquaintances and others, says Catherine Seal, a guardianship attorney in Colorado Springs, Colo., and president-elect of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys. “The worst cases that I see are the ones where there is no guardian,” she says. Expenses that arise as a result of a guardianship, including lawyers for both guardians and wards, typically get paid from the ward’s assets. (In some jurisdictions, there is a public guardian’s office that handles cases for indigent clients.) The financial arrangement, critics say, encourages lawyers and guardians to perpetuate guardianships indefinitely. Check out the story for anecdotes involving guardians and their wards. Linda McDowell, of Sequim, Wash., lost about $470,000 in assets during her 30-month stay in Washington state’s guardianship system. After Ernestine Franks of Pensacola, Fla., was placed into guardianship, withdrawals from a $1.3 million trust set up to pay her expenses jumped to $297,000 in 2014 from $94,000 in 2011, when Ms. Franks mostly made her own financial decisions. Article published in the Wall Street Journal on Oct. 30, 2015.