Washington, D.C. – In a continuation of their efforts to protect seniors and people with disabilities from abusive guardians, U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA), the former and current Chairman of the Senate Aging Committee, introduced the Guardianship Accountability Act. The legislation addresses many of the recommendations in the Aging Committee’s report, “Ensuring Trust: Strengthening State Efforts to Overhaul the Guardianship Process and Protect Older Americans,” that was released at a November 2018 hearing they led following their year-long investigation.
“Guardians are entrusted to take care of those who are unable to make important decisions about their finances and well-being. In some heartbreaking cases, however, Americans have been ruthlessly exploited by caretakers who have taken advantage of the guardianship system,” said Senator Collins. “Preventing guardianship abuse requires law enforcement and social service agencies at all levels of government to work together, and the Guardianship Accountability Act promotes this kind of collaboration. I urge my colleagues to support this bipartisan legislation to help hold criminals accountable and protect seniors and others who receive care under guardianships.”
“The high profile case of Britney Spears shined a spotlight on an issue impacting millions of older adults and people with disabilities living under guardianships or conservatorships. While many people under guardianships may need help managing certain aspects of their lives, lacking oversight and support make it hard for those experiencing abuse to speak out and seek help. Unfortunately, we don’t know much about how many guardianships are occurring, how they’re managed or how much fraud or abuse is happening. This bill would help provide accountability and oversight into guardianships, promote best practices and provide funding and training to spot abuse,” said Senator Casey.
Guardians are supposed to provide support for individuals, ensuring a full life directed, wherever possible, by the person’s own choices and preferences. Without proper oversight, however, unscrupulous guardians can abuse these legal relationships and exploit the individuals they are supposed to protect. State courts are tasked with monitoring guardianships in order to protect individuals subject to guardianship from abuse, neglect and exploitation. Despite this responsibility, few states are able to provide courts with adequate resources to monitor guardianships effectively and hold guardians accountable.
Numerous reported instances of fraud and abuse underscore the vulnerabilities created by guardianships and the need for diligent oversight. Recent examples of exploitation include a professional guardian and her colleagues in Nevada who were indicted on more than 200 felony counts after they allegedly used the guardianship process to take advantage of and financially exploit over 150 individuals. In another case, two individuals from North Carolina lost hundreds of thousands of dollars through exploitation by a family member who served as their guardians. Pop star Britney Spears’ high-profile fight to end her years-long, court-ordered conservatorship has heightened the attention on guardianships.
The Guardianship Accountability Act would help ensure individuals under the care of guardians are not at risk of abuse or neglect by expanding the availability of federal demonstration grants to be used for developing state guardianship databases to assist with the collection of information on guardians, training of court visitors, and sharing of background check and other information with appropriate entities. It would also establish a National Resource Center on Guardianship, which would be tasked with:
· Collecting and publishing information relevant to guardianship for use by guardians, individuals subject to guardianship, as well as courts, states, local governments, and community organizations;
· Publishing model legislation and best practices developed pursuant to the Elder Abuse Prevention and Prosecution Act;
· Compiling and publishing training materials for guardians;
· Promoting the use of less restrictive alternatives such as supported decision-making
· Sharing research related to guardianship; and
· Maintaining a database on state laws regarding guardianship, the use of less restrictive alternatives, and the restoration of rights.
Click HERE to read the bill text.