Elder Abuse and Guardians
WASHINGTON, July 22,2004 At today's hearing from the Senate
Special Committee on Aging's Guardianship Forum, elder law attorney A. Frank
Johns testified about ways to improve the current guardianship process, which
has allowed some vulnerable seniors to become victims of abuse and neglect.
Committee chair Senator Larry Craig (ID), ranking member Senator John Breaux
(LA) and representatives from the Government Accountability Office (GAO),
along with Johns, past president of the National Academy of Elder Law
Attorneys (NAELA), discussed today's results from a significant study on
issues related to legal guardians and aging Americans under their care -- the
first such study GAO has conducted.
This year long study from the GAO began in February 2003, when Senator
Craig requested the first ever GAO investigation of the guardianship process
after hearing witnesses, including Johns, testify about cases across the
nation in which appointed guardians mistreated elders. "When used correctly in
very extreme cases, guardianships can be an important tool in securing the
physical and financial safety of an incapacitated elderly senior," Chairman
Craig said. "At the same time, guardianship can divest an elderly person of
all the rights and freedoms we consider important as citizens. For this
reason, I asked the GAO to study the accountability of guardians who are
charged with managing these funds on behalf of the elderly."
Most guardians do a difficult job very well. The Committee determined that
standards between federal and state authorities should be set to ensure the
quality of all legal guardian care from coast to coast.
Johns, a renowned elder law attorney who counsels seniors and their
families on guardianship issues, made an opening statement and then fielded
questions. "The wisdom and commitment of Senator Craig was realized when the
GAO presented its study and recommendations to this committee in Feb 2003,"
said Johns. "The greater benefit is not that another report is being
published. The greater benefit is that Senator Craig and his committee will
facilitate the connection between federal and state funding sources, and the
national guardianship network and its focus to implement these
recommendations. With the generous investment of time by these parties, we can
add a measure of protection for those Americans of age that need legal
guardians in their lives."
The GAO Report released today includes concrete recommendations and
examples of efficient guardianship case tracking and other reforms that may
serve as models for states and federal agencies to follow. Today's hearing
covered three topics of significance:
Mr. Johns testimony included recommendations that addressed: (1) what
should be done to monitor accountability and enhance state guardianship
processes; (2) the establishment of a nationwide database for tracking
guardianships; and (3) funding sources that should utilize the National
Guardianship Network for implementation. At present little if any data on
state guardianships cases exist. Effective tracking of guardianship data
would help the state and federal governments access empirical data by which
caseloads could be more carefully forecasted and processed. If the number of
wards were known, then necessary funding would provide for sufficient staff,
and the cost of training and enforcement.
Johns and the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys are regularly
involved in this practice area, having conducted in 2001, "Wingspan: the
Second National Guardianship Conference," where invited delegates discussed
the issues and voted on the recommendations coming out of the conference. A
joint conference in November 2004, "Wingspan: the Third National Guardianship
Conference" will include a presentation of the GAO Report by GAO
representatives, and an invitation only "Wingspan Implementation Session" with
delegates from over 40 states, as well as the attendance of several state
supreme court chief justices.
What is Guardianship?
Guardianship, also referred to as conservatorship, is a legal process,
utilized when a person can no longer make or communicate safe or sound
decisions about his/her person and/or property. The person may have also
become susceptible to fraud or undue influence, leaving them vulnerable to
scam artists or identity thieves.
About A. Frank Johns
Frank Johns, JD, CELA, RG, is a nationally recognized authority in Elder
Law and Guardianship, past President of and a Fellow in NAELA.
About the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)
Established in 1987, the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys (NAELA)
was formed to enhance the quality of legal services available to the elderly
and people with special needs in the United States. Members of NAELA are
attorneys who have demonstrated experience and training in working with the
legal problems of aging Americans and disabled individuals. For more
information, please contact NAELA at 520.881.4005 or
visit http://www.naela.org .
- an examination of state laws that
provide for oversight of guardianships;
- breakdowns in collaboration
between state and federal oversight programs that serve incapacitated seniors;
- examples of courts that are commendable for their training and
monitoring of guardianship programs.
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