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A newly released Government Accountability Office report recommends stronger screening and oversight of court appointed guardians for incapacitated adults, after finding gaps in procedures for screening potential guardians that may make older adults vulnerable to financial exploitation.

The report, Incapacitated Adults: Oversight of Federal Fiduciaries and Court-Appointed Guardians Needs Improvement, studied screening procedures for court appointed guardians who oversee adults that receive cash benefits through federal agencies, such as the Social Security Administration and the Department of Veterans Affairs. Although many states have some sort of screening procedures in place, only 13 states require guardians to undergo independent criminal background checks before being appointed and only 9 states prohibit convicted felons from serving as guardians. Once appointed, guardians are not effectively monitored in most states. Even states that pursue promising monitoring practices, encounter limited resources that prevent effective implementation. The report also cites inadequate information sharing between agencies and state courts as a problem with the current system that could negatively impact incapacitated adults.

Based on the data, the GAO recommends that the Department of Health and Human Services consider pilot programs that will evaluate practices for monitoring guardians. The GAO also suggests better information sharing between the Social Security Administration and state courts when it comes to the appointment of guardians for social security beneficiaries. “The bottom line is that we need to ensure that the people being put in charge of someone else’s Social Security checks are using the money appropriately,” said Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI) in a press release about the report, “While I acknowledge that the Social Security Administration faces limitations, we must do more to combat abuses in the system.”

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