GAO and Senators Call for Changes to Prevent Guardian Abuse

A new study by the Government Accounting Office (GAO) found that the incidence of guardians who turn from bad to worse through exploitation and abuse of their charges happens on an alarmingly frequent basis. With little or no oversight by state authorities or courts, then guardians are often free to abuse their wards, particularly from a financial perspective. In response, a Senate committee has called for tougher state oversight of guardianships in an attempt to combat elder financial abuse.

In guardianship proceedings, a state court typically appoints another adult, such as a close relative or family member, a professional, or a government agency to legally represent the interests of an incapacitated adult, whether the incapacitation is due to illness, injury, or advanced age. This guardian has the power to make key decisions on the incapacitated adult’s behalf, including key financial and legal decisions. Due to the prevalence of guardian abuse and exploitation, however, the GAO is calling for all state courts to examine guardianships on a closer and more frequent basis in order to ensure not only that a guardian is necessary in the first place, but also that a guardian continues to be necessary for the long-term. Additionally, courts should consider less restrictive alternatives to guardianship, such as caregivers. Criminal background checks also can be useful in determining whether a person is an appropriate guardian, but cannot be exclusively relied upon, as background checks don’t necessarily identify activity in another state.

The GAO study identified the state of Washington as a model state in terms of taking steps to ensure that guardians are taking appropriate actions on behalf of their wards. For instance, Washington requires that potential professional guardians complete a 90-hour course, and potential family guardians complete two-hour courses in order to serve as guardians. The hope is that these training courses will help avoid unintentional and intentional commingling of assets and other inappropriate actions that guardians sometimes take.

You entrust your loved one to a guardian and/or a nursing home so that he or she is properly cared for. When that facility or guardian fails to provide your loved one with an even basic level of reasonable care, it is likely that negligence occurred, which may make that facility and the guardian liable for the resulting injuries. If you find yourself in this situation, you may be entitled to compensation for the losses that you or your family member has suffered. Call our Wisconsin nursing home abuse attorneys at Boller & Vaughan and learn what we can do for you and your family.