November 22, 2017

Who is Watching the Guardians?

Concerns expressed by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court about older residents has resulted in some action by court officials in Hollidaysburg, who have decided to study ways to monitor guardianships, according to a recent article in the Altoona Mirror.  A guardian is a court-appointed individual who controls the finances and legal affairs of a person adjudicated to be incompetent to handle his or her own affairs.

Elder Issue gets Supreme Court attention

The goal is to try to prevent elderly or disabled residents from being abused, neglected or financially ruined by the people who are supposed to protect them. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court, earlier this year appointed an Elder Law Task Force. It was created by Chief Justice Ronald D. Castille and is chaired by Justice Debra Todd. The court last April voiced concern about aging Pennsylvanians and guardianships, elder abuse and access to justice issues.

The Chief Justice pointed out that two million state residents are over 65, a number that is expected to grow. In a press release from the court, several instances of neglect and financial mismanagement were discussed, including a Dauphin County man who stole $380,000 from his 89-year-old great aunt while serving as the person who was supposed to be protecting her.

Little Oversight of Guardians

The National Center for State Courts estimates there were 1.5 million active guardianships in the United States in 2011. In Pennsylvania, the courts decided more than 30,000 guardianship cases between 2000 and 2011, according to an article on Observer-Reporter.com. As of late 2010 eleven states require professional guardians to be certified, reported the federal Government Accountability Office.  It’s not clear how many professional guardians are in Pennsylvania because there is no licensing or certification process, according to the article.

In Blair County, judges held a planning meeting where they discussed how to better monitor guardianships.  A guardian is supposed to submit an annual report of his or her activities but there is no system to determine if an annual report has been submitted to the office of the Blair County  Orphans’ Court.

How to improve that system has been a topic of discussion, including possibly granting continuing legal education credits to attorneys to monitor a case. Right now that system of review has been described as “hit and miss.”

Dauphin County trains attorneys to serve as monitors for individual cases.  The monitor is not the attorney for the incapacitated person or the guardian, but can review confidential records concerning the care, well-being and financial interests of the incapacitated person.

Contact Halligan & Keaton

We handle guardianship cases for families concerned about their loved ones. We understand how vulnerable people with serious disabilities or advanced age can be, and work with our clients to make sure their needs are met.  If you think a family member needs a guardian, or already has a guardian but you think there may be financial abuse going on, contact our office so we can discuss the situation.