Senior maltreatment: Do we need better security against court-delegated gatekeepers?

Senior maltreatment: Do we need better security against court-delegated gatekeepers?

Netflix's i Care a Lot tells a miserable story about an evil crook who enriches herself by hurting the elderly.

The icy villain, Marla Grayson (played wonderfully by Rosamund Pike), is a court-appointed legal will for the elderly. I have created a busy and prosperous agency that is supposed to help older people in the fall of their lives, but reality is not a noble thing. The film explains early on that Marla is a fraudulent artist who only cares about her elderly "clients" by the amount of money and the amount of assets she can extract from them.

Her method is simple: she bribes a doctor to say that an elderly patient is inappropriate, and then hires a judge to appoint her as a guardian for the elderly. Just like that, Marla enjoys the freedom to put her clients in nursing homes. Once they do this, they enjoy full control over their lives, including drying up their bank accounts and selling their property.

Abuse of guardian in real life

It's definitely a disturbing tale. But hey, it's just a movie, isn't it?


The scariest part of "I care so much" is that - at least in many states - this kind of abuse of the elderly approved by the court is real.

Certainly, most court-appointed guardians properly protect the persons under their care. But legal authorities say it's a large system -- 1.3 million adults under the care of guardians who control $50 billion of their assets -- with little oversight, protection, or transparency.

The extent of the abuse of the guardian is unknown, but informed authorities say it is a problem. In an article in The Hill, law professors Nina A. Cohn and David M. English said reports of abuse such as those portrayed in the film were very common. This, they say, is because our laws are very weak.

First, state laws allow courts to appoint "guardians in emergencies" who are not obliged to notify the elderly, their family or friends of their appointment. Although some states say that individuals have the right to notify before approving the guardian, Cohn and English often say the courts waive the notice, and they say that guardians are routinely appointed without the subject of the case present in court.

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

Thirdly, although the courts are supposed to supervise the guardians, they are often subject to guardian assurances that everything is fine and thus fail to detect irregularities.

Karen Buck, executive director of the Pennsylvania Law Center, told the Guardian: "It's the state that comes and makes your basic decisions, and your fundamental right to self-government, giving these decisions to someone else may be totally weird. For you. So it's a very strict procedure and it doesn't get that much attention until there's a crisis and a scandal."

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 guardians for older people, the story of a smart guardian is similar to that of the fictional Marla. In 2018, nevada's legal guardian, April Parks, pleaded guilty to six criminal charges, including two for the exploitation of the elderly, resulting in her imprisonment from 16 to 40 years. Like Marla, Parks got clues from the medical staff, got emergency court orders, and appeared without warning in the homes of her victims to ask them to pack their bags for their new home, a living facility.

Stories like this prompted the U.S. Senate's Aging Committee to call for guardianship reform in 2018, but not much of it was achieved. The Commission issued a report urging states to pass legislation covering specific procedures such as requiring stricter guardianship control and greater protection of individuals under guardianship. But only two countries, Maine and Washington, have adopted them.

Meanwhile, the Unified Law Commission has adopted model legislation that lawmakers can consider if they are considering better protection for their elderly citizens than unscrupulous guardians. But if the past is proof, most legislators do not place guardianship reform as a top priority in their lists of tasks.

What you can do.

Regardless of laws and legislation, there are things individuals can do or keep in mind if they want better protection for older family members or friends.

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

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

Conduct ing investigations. Does the elderly know and trust the guardian? Is their medical and personal care sufficient? Does the guardian pay the bills? Are there transactions that look strange?

Review documents and accounts. It may be difficult to obtain court documents, which can be sealed and presented only by the parties to the case. However, you may be able to petition the court to review the documents, which may reveal that the guardian exceeds his authority.

Report to law enforcement or other authorities. A guardian's breach of his fiduciary duty may result in violations of federal, state, or local laws relating to elder abuse or financial fraud. In a growing number of states there are licensing boards that include guardians; Also, some guardians act as payments to social security representatives to manage SSA benefits or Veterans Administration agents to administer VA benefits, so you can contact these agencies if you suspect abuse.

Most court-appointed guardians do their job properly and take the interests of their guardians into account. Apparently, however, not many do. Rightly or wrongly, if you suspect that a family member or friend has been abused by a parent, you may have the task of getting at least initial answers.