A New York grand jury investigating the guardianship system in the state has issued a report concluding that the system "has gone horribly wrong" and needs to be overhauled.
"Instead of serving to protect the assets of incapacitated persons," the report says, "the existing guardianship system presents the opportunity for unscrupulous guardians to loot the assets of their wards and enrich themselves with impunity."
Guardians (called "conservators" in some states) are appointed by judges to manage the affairs of people who cannot handle their own because of physical or mental incapacity. Problems with guardianship and guardians are not limited to New York. AARP Magazine recently concluded that the guardianship system in America is "rife with opportunities for financial exploitation, medical neglect, and the wrongful usurping of a competent person's freedom." (See "Article Spotlights Abuses in the Guardianship System," ElderLawAnswers, Dec. 22, 2003.)
The New York grand jury investigation focused on the case of a New York City lawyer who stole $2.1 million over a five-year period from 17 incapacitated people. The attorney used his gains to buy a mansion on the Hawaiian island of Maui and a world-class wine collection.
The attorney, now serving a sentence of three to nine years, provided extensive testimony that gave the grand jurors a vivid picture of how easy it is for guardians to steal from those whose interests they are charged with protecting.
The grand jury report calls for tighter supervision of those overseeing guardianships, stricter enforcement of accounting requirements and increased sanctions for improper accounting.
To read an article in The New York Times on the grand jury report, go to: http://www.nytimes.com/2004/03/03/nyregion/03lawyer.html?pagewanted=1 (Free registration required and article may no longer be available free of charge.)
The National Guardianship Association has drawn up Standards for Guardians and a Model Code of Ethics for Guardians.
For more on guardianship and conservatorship, click here.