Guardianship is a legal relationship that more and more Americans are likely to need as they get older. A legal guardian is a person who has been granted the power to make personal decisions on behalf of another (known as the ward). A similar relationship known as a conservatorship involves granting someone power to make financial decisions for the ward. Together, these two instruments can help someone suffering from dementia or other disabling condition transfer authority to make the right choices on their behalf.
When Things Go Wrong
When a guardian or conservator performs his or her duties correctly, the ward is shielded from scams targeting the elderly or vulnerable. The ward is also protected from mistakes that are common when a person is in poor health. When guardians and conservators do not perform their duties correctly, wards are placed in serious danger. They can end up in financial ruin or be exposed to dangerous, even deadly conditions.
No Laughing Matter
The news/comedy show Last Week Tonight recently did an episode targeting issues faced by senior citizens. Among those issues was the alarmingly common problem of professional guardians who take advantage of wards. The show highlighted a serious flaw in the way guardianships and conservatorships are handled. There is very little oversight of these relationships. The lack of oversight is particularly troubling, given how vulnerable wards are to abuse. A person suffering from dementia is not in a good position to challenge the decisions made by their ward in a court of law.
Plan Ahead And Choose Someone You Trust
While the show used a series of celebrities to advocate for the choice of Tom Hanks as a personal guardian, the plain truth is that you need to choose someone you can rely upon. You need to make that choice well in advance of needing a guardian to step in. You also need to make that choice openly, and include it as part of your overall estate plan.