Fifteen minutes into the new Netflix show I Care a Lot is probably enough to make most Maryland residents feel queasy about the guardianship system across the country. When an elderly person is unable to make informed decisions about their health or finances, courts appoint a guardian to make these choices for them. While the guardian is supposed to make choices in their ward’s best interests, supervised by the court, the Netflix show demonstrates how elderly individuals can be taken advantage.
How common are guardianships?
It is very difficult to track how many people are in guardianships at any one time. While some estimates put it at between one and three million across the country, many states do not have standardized record keeping. The records are mostly sealed and few websites provide comprehensive information on the issue. Unfortunately, courts mostly decide how to handle the situation on their own and depend on a professional guardian’s honor to carry out their duties legally.
Is elder abuse common in guardianships?
There is no easy answer to this question. A guardian can be in charge of many aspects of a ward’s life, from the medicine they eat, the way their finances are managed, the people they meet and even where they live. Consequently, it is possible for the guardianship to take financial advantage of their position.
One way it is possible to avoid a court- appointed guardian is by ensuring one’s estate planning documents are in order. Estate planning does not only refer to wills, it also refers to financial and health related power of attorneys. These documents allow individuals to appoint someone to make important healthcare related or monetary decisions for people who are unable to make those decisions for themselves because of some form of incapacitation. One way to find out what documents are needed and how to complete them is by consulting an experienced attorney for guidance.