U.S. Senate Special Committee on Aging Chairman Bob Casey (D-PA) and Ranking Member Mike Braun (R-IN) sent a letter this week to the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) regarding guardianship laws across the Nation. There are an estimated 1.3 million older adults and people with disabilities in guardianships, which are legal relationships created when a court determines that a person is incapable of making important decisions on their own. Considering the lack of data on guardianships across the U.S., Senators Casey and Braun requested GAO examine and report on guardianship laws throughout the country, the use of guardianships, and efforts to reform the guardianship system.
Recent Senate Special Committee on Aging testimony and media reports suggest that guardian abuse and fraud can have devastating effects. Such abuse can deprive older adults, people with disabilities, and others of their rights, their financial security, and even contact with their families.
“Although many guardians live up to their obligations, testimony and media stories illustrate the dark side of guardianships. Some adults are wrongly placed into guardianships, which can be unnecessarily restrictive and violate their rights. The status of people under guardianships may be ‘poorly monitored in sufficient, meaningful, and diligent ways,’ resulting in ‘exploitation, abuse, and neglect,’” wrote the Senators.
The majority of people in guardianships are seniors and people with disabilities. Many need permission to see a doctor, take or refuse medication, live in in their own homes, spend their own money, and even vote. They also face increased risk of abuse, neglect, and exploitation by unscrupulous guardians. Efforts to reform guardianship systems and options for states to promote less restrictive alternatives are varied across the country.
Read the letter here.