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Elder guardianship could be a form of financial abuse

Elder guardianship, when ordered by a judge against the wishes of the family and put into the hands of a stranger, is coming under fire all over the country.

Many experts feel like it's a form of elder abuse. Those who have been victimized by the system tend to agree.

Research by the Americans Against Abusive Probate Guardianship says that courts routinely ignore the documents that the seniors themselves had prepared in case they ever needed a guardian. Instead, the judge often puts the life affairs of the senior in question into the hands of a stranger who makes his or her living as a legal guardian -- leaving family members distraught and often fighting expensive battles to get control back over their loved ones.

Here are some facts that should scare anyone:

-- Virtually anyone can ask the court to have you declared incapacitated. The process can be accomplished within days, leaving family members unsure where you are even located.

-- The Government Accountability Office has identified hundreds of cases of physical and financial abuse by guardians, including $5.4 million stolen from just 158 individuals.

-- Nobody knows exactly how many adults are under guardianship. In 2013, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) gave its best guess at 1.5 million adults in the guardianship system.

-- Only two states, Idaho and Minnesota, have any system in place to record the money in the hands of court-appointed professional guardians.

-- Horror stories abound, with the process of an abusive guardianship being described as nothing more than "liquidate, isolate, medicate." Many have equated it to a legal form of human trafficking.

What can elders do to protect themselves from this sort of abuse? Often, there are several steps you can take that could help:

-- Make sure that your legal documents stating who has your power of attorney and who you want as your guardian are on file with the court. That makes it harder for them to be ignored.

-- Put your liquid assets in an irrevocable trust that's outside of the court's control.

Essentially, make yourself a poor target for abuse by making it difficult for a money-motivated guardian to grab anything of value.

You should also maintain a relationship with an attorney who can fight for your rights, challenge the guardianship order, and work with concerned family members if you suddenly get swept into the guardianship system.

Source: Albuquerque Journal, "It's all about the money in probate," Kelley Smoot Garrett, March 31, 2017

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