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The Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Administrative Oversight and the Courts investigated the current procedures surrounding court appointed guardians and discussed different methods of preventing abuse against seniors and other vulnerable adults.

A 2010 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found hundreds of cases of neglect and improper actions by guardians nationwide. The report examined 20 of those cases more closely, finding 5.4 million dollars were taken from 158 victims. “This may not seem like a large sum of money in Washington talk,” said Chairman, Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) “But to the victims, as you all know, the consequences can be devastating.” Many states also suffer from a shortage of resources, making proper monitoring of court appointed guardians difficult. Initial screening of guardians also needs improvement. According to the GAO, only 13 states conduct criminal background checks of guardians, nine prevent convicted felons from serving as guardians, and two prevent convicted criminals from being court appointed guardians. Even with these screening procedures in place, unfit guardians can still pass the initial check. In four test states, the GAO was able to pass initial screening procedures with a social security number of a deceased individual as well as a social security number of an individual with poor credit.

Panelists agreed that pilot programs that offer cost effective ways to screen and monitor court appointed guardians were needed, but some promising practices are already in place. For example, the Minnesota conservatorship program uses technology to improve oversight and cut costs. The technology known as CAMPERS flags aberrations in annual accounts, leading to closer inspection of those guardians. Florida has also pursued some beneficial initiatives. Florida’s Statewide Public Guardianship Office registers each guardian and requires a state and criminal background check as well as a credit history report every two years. The state also requires an annual well being assessment of each senior or other adult under the guardians’ care. 

Despite some states’ progress in monitoring and screening court appointed guardians, all panelists agreed that more change is needed. “People need a voice when they become vulnerable at certain points and rely on a system that should be protecting them, not exploiting them, or abusing them by becoming lost in a sea of motions and continuances,” said Deb Holtz, the State Ombudsman for Long-Term Care at the Minnesota Board on Aging. “It should be a given that we all age without any abuse, neglect, or financial exploitation and that our lives will continue to be filled with dignity.”

Watch the full hearing: “Protecting Seniors and Persons with Disabilities – An Examination of Court – Appointed Guardians.”

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