As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the responsibility for their care often falls into the hands of their loved ones. For many seniors, their adult children are expected to step into the caregiver role, even while raising children of their own. These adult children may not live near their aging parents or they may be in the process of finding an assisted living facility for their loved one. For some seniors, there’s simply no one available to make sure that their financial and medical needs are being met. As a result, the decision-making is being placed into the hands of court-appointed guardians.
Regardless of the circumstances that lead to this arrangement, the bottom line is that court-appointed guardianships are a breeding ground for fraud and elder abuse. Over one million adults are under guardianship, with most of those adults being over the age of 65. In most cases, the guardian is a family member. But for those who don’t have a family member capable of caring for them, an agency or other professional is appointed. In most cases, these agencies or professionals have good intentions and do their best to make sure that the individual’s needs are being met. Unfortunately, hundreds of seniors are falling through the cracks after being left in the hands of a poorly regulated system.
A 2010 report from the Government Accountability Office discovered hundreds of cases with allegations of neglect, abuse, and financial exploitation, including nearly $5.5 million in stolen assets over a period of 20 years. In recent years, cases involving guardianship companies have made national headlines. The owner of a guardianship company in Nevada was indicted on felony charges involving the theft of the life savings of 150 people. In New Mexico, owners of another company were involved in a plot to embezzle $4 million from trust funds belonging to their clients, while the owner of another New Mexico-based agency pled guilty to money laundering and wire fraud in relation to 70 special needs clients. Court-appointed guardians have been accused of sending clients to institutions and selling their homes while they are locked away. To make matters worse, guardians are being paid for their “services” out of the client’s funds.
Fortunately, there are ways to prevent this from happening to you or to a loved one. By setting up the appropriate estate planning documents, you can plan ahead for the day when a guardianship becomes necessary. If you’re concerned about your aging parent, talk to them about making arrangements for their healthcare and financial management. If you’re worried about who will care for you as you age, take the time to get your documents in order while you are still able.
Start with a Power of Attorney, choosing someone to make decisions on your behalf if you become incapacitated. Keep in mind that as you age, everyone you know is aging too. Review your documents often, making sure that the people you’ve selected are still able and willing to make decisions for you. If you don’t have a relative or friend that will be able to manage your medical care and financial affairs, choose your attorney or other qualified professional to act as your guardian. By preparing ahead of time, you reduce the risk of being vulnerable to predatory individuals masquerading as caregivers.
If you have questions about Adult Guardianships here in Florida, or you would like to start the process of becoming an Adult Guardian for a loved one so that this role does not end up in the hands of a stranger, contact our Brandon law firm at (813) 438-8503 to schedule a consultation.