If you are appointed a guardian or conservator of an individual, it is vital that you understand Alaska law regarding conservator exploitation. It is so unfortunate, but from time to time the court has to deal with situations where vulnerable citizens have been taken advantage of, mistreated, or in some cases robbed while they were incapacitated.
Here are a few of the worst examples:
Falling to Financial Ruin
One widely reported case involved a woman who fell down the stairs in her Nashville, TN home and suffered a severe brain injury. The accident happened in 2008. Because there was no immediate family, her closest relative (an aunt) was advised by an attorney to petition the court for a guardian. The court appointed a lawyer who put her in a group home for persons living with extreme mental illness.
Seven weeks later when she unexpectedly recovered, she was informed that her house and all her belongings had been sold. Additionally, because she was feeling better she was assigned housekeeping and meal prep chores in the group home where she was paying $850/month to live. She was also paying her guardian/attorney $200/hour to write checks and receive messages on her behalf.
It took two long years for the woman to win back her rights. She was eventually successful in part because of the help of an advocate, and also because of media attention. All this because she fell down the stairs. She later successfully sued the guardian. Reported by The Tennessean newspaper.
Gambling with Guardianship
A Las Vegas woman is now in prison after pleading guilty in 2013 to exploitation of a vulnerable person. She took money from the accounts of her four wards to cover her sizable gambling debts and personal expenses. The total amount stolen totaling $495,000 for just one of her four wards. Reported by the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
Life Savings Gone After a Stroke
Another example of conservator exploitation involved a Phoenix woman who suffered a stroke in 2005. Throughout her life, through careful saving and investing, she had managed to save $1.3 million. After four years under the guardianship of an unscrupulous agency, she was nearly broke. Records showed the agency was charging her $50 per hour for someone to open her mail. The agency later closed shop. Reported by the Arizona Republic.
Know Your Responsibilities
Part of the responsibility of being appointed a conservator or guardian is educating yourself about how you are required to handle the finances and resources of your ward. Conservator exploitation is a serious offense and may result in a jail sentence. If you are stepping into the role of conservator or guardian, please make sure you understand the duties that come with the appointment.
Petitioning the Court on Behalf of Your Family Member
Sometimes when a person (without immediate family) becomes incapacitated due to accident or illness, another relative will petition the court to appoint a guardian. The request could be made when there is no family capable of serving.
Not everyone who is asked, agrees to serve as a conservator or guardian. Sometimes it is because a person is just not up to serving as someone’s guardian. Lack of time, financial expertise or advanced age can scare people away from the heavy responsibilities of guardianship.
However, if you do not feel qualified to serve as a guardian, you can still assist your family member and the court by advocating for them throughout the process. In any state, persons who are incapacitated need a voice in the court system.
How You Can Help Prevent Guardian or Conservator Exploitation
- Ask the court for a criminal background check, which could alert the court to any criminal past or history of violence.
- Ask for a bond for the proposed guardian. That way if a theft does occur, the ward would be protected.
- Monitor the process as it moves along. Check regularly with the lawyer. If you think something isn’t being handled properly, there are ways to ask the court for help. Once your loved on has been placed in care, visit them regularly and report any concerns. Frequent visits are the best protection against conservator exploitation.
In December 2014, a survey on state guardianship laws and court practices showed the following:
Sixty percent of the court respondents said they did not require a credit or financial background check on a prospective guardian.
The survey also found that almost 40 percent of the 1,000 respondents said that criminal background checks were not required of non-professional guardians of an estate.
The survey was commissioned by the Administrative Conference of the United States. Respondents included judges, court staff and guardians from around the country.
Conservator exploitation is a serious problem everywhere.