“Finally, Washington is taking steps to protect older Americans who have fallen into an exploitation trap set for them by state courts.”
Federal officials will soon have the power to investigate in states and prosecute unscrupulous court-appointed guardians and conservators who prey on elderly wards, according to a creators.com article, “Congress Steps Up to Control Court-Ordered Guardianships.”
It’s a long-overdue first act in thwarting the obvious abuses of this mostly secret system. Research shows there are at least 1.3 million Americans now living under guardianship control with $50-300 billion in assets—at risk for exploitation.
Both houses of Congress have passed the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act, which is designed to bolster the laws on elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation, including those by telemarketers and email scammers.
Congress has also now finally acknowledged the nationwide issue of judges who pass over family and appoint outside for-profit guardians to handle the financial and personal affairs of the elderly. This can mean that hard-earned estates are wiped out, and inheritances end up paying the fees of total strangers.
There are many appointed guardians who help the elderly with no family members or unavailable family members to help them in their last years. These kind people handle all aspects of seniors' lives, such as medical matters, finances and funeral arrangements.
If President Trump signs the bill into law, the Department of Justice would assign at least one assistant U.S. attorney in each federal judicial district to investigate reports of wrongdoing by guardians. The assistant U.S. attorneys would have the authority to ask specially trained FBI agents to help with these investigations. The law would also mandate that the DOJ to set up an elder abuse resource group to facilitate information-sharing among federal prosecutors. Within 60 days of the president's signing the bill, Attorney General Sessions would designate a DOJ elder justice czar to run this new investigative process.
The Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship and other family-centered advocacy groups are pleased that Washington has now acknowledged there is a big problem with state guardianship systems that see judges declare absent citizens as "incapacitated," taking as truth the claims of one family member over all others and continuing to appoint questionable guardians in lucrative cases without much supervision.
AAAPG's research has found that federal investigators are already actively looking into questionable guardian practices in at least six states: New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Florida, Washington, and New Mexico, where a 28-count indictment on charges of conspiracy, fraud, and theft was recently unsealed against Ayudando, a private guardianship company. More indictments are anticipated against other guardians.
One thing this new bill doesn't do is address the problem with the judicial system. Judges appoint guardians with little or no follow-up, in a system that is so entrenched and unaccountable that only action on the federal level can remedy it.
In addition, the legislation fails to address the need to accurately monitor the number of Americans who are held in guardianship or to create a central registry where complaints against unsavory court appointees could be delivered. Without a way to track unsuitable guardians, they can be repeatedly appointed.
Reference: creators.com (October 7, 2017) “Congress Steps Up to Control Court-Ordered Guardianships”