Faith and Julie have been neighbors and friends for over twenty years. They are both 75 years old and take daily walks together. Julie was recently diagnosed with dementia. Her daughter, Abby, lives a few hours away and is her general guardian, but rarely visits her mother. Abby hired an in-home aide to assist Julie around the house. When Faith tries to visit Julie during the day, the aide tells Faith that Julie is no longer up for visits from her or anyone else. Faith noticed the aide often leaves for hours at a time during the day and locks Julie in the house while she is gone. A mutual friend told Faith she recently saw Julie and the aide at an estate lawyer’s office and Julie mentioned she was changing her will. Faith grows worried about Julie and calls Abby to express her concerns. Abby is overwhelmed with stress in her own life and states that she trusts the aide, but will check in on her mother soon. Faith doesn’t see Abby visit or any changes to the aide or the aide’s behavior.
In my previous posts, available here and here, I described elder abuse generally and how adult protective services (APS) through the county departments of social services and guardianship proceedings before the clerk of superior court can be tools to protect against elder abuse, neglect, and exploitation (hereinafter, referred to as “abuse”). However, just because someone has a guardian, it does not mean the risks of such abuse are eliminated. In fact, guardians, such as Abby, often create circumstances for such abuse by leaving the adult in vulnerable positions and failing to monitor the adult’s care. In addition, guardians may be the source of such abuse by taking advantage of and exploiting the authority they are given. One recent report commissioned by the U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging examined such abuse by guardians after growing concern of abusive practices by guardians. The study concluded the extent of such abuse is unknown nationally due to limited data but there is some evidence that financial exploitation by a guardian is one of the most common types of elder abuse, which frequently includes the guardian overcharging for services that were either not necessary or never performed or misusing the adult’s money by incurring excessive dining and vehicle expenses. See Elder Abuse Report, pg. 11 and 14.
The risk of the abuse of an adult under guardianship may be mitigated by (i) court screening of potential guardians through criminal and financial background checks and guardian training or certification requirements, and (ii) court oversight after a guardian is appointed through the filing with the court of status reports, which are reports on the care, comfort, and maintenance of the adult, and accountings, which are reports on the financial affairs of the adult. Even with effective screening and oversight, abuse may still occur when someone has a guardian.
So, what steps may someone, like Faith, who is concerned about abuse of someone under guardianship either by the guardian or a third-party take to protect the adult? Continue Reading